Blue Chip Stamps and One Million Miles
My husband is obsessed with Mileage Points. He has strategically flown and credit-card-charged his way to Million Mile status on United. Granted, it is a lofty place to be and I don't begrudge his accomplishment because, for one, I am a beneficiary, too. As his spouse, or more appropriately, his Chosen One, I also enjoy an upgraded status just 'cuz he loves me.
Now that we are here, I get what all of his obsessive manipulations and maneuverings have been about. The perks are awesome. But honestly, because I know his history, I believe there is more to my husband's propensity to play the point game than the perks. (See how I did that? For all you alliteration lovers!)
Remember Green Stamps? Are you old enough to recall Blue Chip Stamps? Before grocery store membership cards and frequent flyer mile programs, there was S&H Green Stamps and Blue Chip Stamps. To my knowledge, these were the original buyer-loyalty programs enormously popular in the 1970's, wherein customers would get a set of stamps when they made purchases from participating stores. Grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, (and eventually even brothels and mortuaries in some regions of the U.S.) gave you the stamps with your purchase at check out. Then you save up the stamps, lick the backs and place them ever-so-carefully into the collection booklet. With a book full of stamps, you could redeem them at the Green or Blue Chip Stamp Redemption Store for all manner of merchandise-- clothing, furniture and housewares, even toys.
As children, both my spouse and I were all about it. He, on the East Coast, collected S&H Green Stamps, and I, on the West Coast, hoarded Blue Chip Stamps. I love knowing that when we were both very young, we were participating in this parallel obsession at the same time. It tickles me that our mothers were both discarding these precious stamps or throwing them in that catchall kitchen drawer, then forgetting about them. But he and I were not forgetting. Instead, we were studiously collecting those stamps; obsessively perusing the beautiful catalogs of possibilities-- those picture books of merchandise that informed us of what we could buy with our stamps. We would decide what we wanted and save the stamps based on our goals--he in Rochester, New York and me in Los Angeles, California.
Let me just say, though, this was the ultimate exercise in delayed gratification because it took a WHOLE LOT of stamps to "buy" anything substantial, even a toy. He and I have discussed how much time, patience and perseverance it took to end up with an item in hand. But here's the thing-- I cannot for the life of me remember what I bought when the requisite books were full. I cannot think of a single redeemed item. I collected those stamps for a long time, relatively speaking, but I can't remember what I bought. Not. One. thing.
I can, however, summon up the excitement I felt when I was only a half sheet of stamps away from some long planned-for prize. I remember negotiating with my mother to take me to the Redemption Center. And I remember how accomplished I felt when I handed over my books of stamps at the counter. In hindsight, I can see clearly what I could not have known then-- that the fun was more in the anticipation and the effort. It was the dream and the secret acquisition of the stamps. The prize itself was icing, but not even memorable. There are lots of behavioral studies that bear out this reality-- that delayed gratification and anticipation tend to bring more satisfaction than the end prize. A study even looked at vacation planning and found that when people are planning a vacation, they experience more sustained pleasure in the planning and anticipation than the vacation itself. We don't really process the vacation experience the way we think. We attribute all of the joy to the actual vacation, and forget all about how the vacation planning helped us continue go to our sorry jobs each morning, or how looking a brochures and websites of our destinations and imagining ourselves there sustained us through other challenges of our day-to-day.
So can it be that my spouse's One Million Mile effort is just a part of his programming, his well- trained brain's need to find a pursuit that creates a heightened anticipation and delayed gratification scenario? Of all of his higher pursuits-- in business and life, perhaps he needs this kind of Green Stamp pursuit-- something simple and pure, sure and certain-- something that ties him to the simplicity of his past and the enduring truths of his right now.
I will contemplate this as I lounge with my glass of wine in the United Club next time around.