Rocking Luxury

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It’s no secret that one of my favorite bloggers, and certainly the most personally influential is Mr. Money Mustache.

Pete (MMM himself) does an incredible job of reframing societal assumptions.

If our dominant modern hypothesis is that consuming things brings us happiness, Pete stands this theory on its head, and points out (correctly I think) that we would be wise to focus on things that actually deliver happiness instead. Things like freedom (financial and otherwise), the sense that what we do matters, autonomy, and health.

But in the end Mr. Money Mustache is a counter narrative, and like all counter narrative as it has its own small holes.

Take the concept of luxury. In the mustachian worldview, luxury (or “fanciness”) is something to be suspicious of. It is a coddling force that leads to atrophied muscles, a susceptibility to advertising (and thus the inevitable and counterproductive impulse towards consumption.)

But what if luxury, or the feeling of luxury, is happiness inducing in and of itself?

Take this famous experiment where subjects were given two glasses of The exact same Cabernet Sauvignon and were imaged in an fMRI after having taken a sip of each. The only wrinkle is that they were told that one glass contained a $10 a bottle wine in the other contained a $90 a bottle wine.

The objective finding of the study was that the subjects’ pleasure centers (the medial orbital frontal cortices) of their brain were much more active after having sips of wine that they thought was more expensive.

I think the most intuitive reading of the study is as sort of an “emperor has no clothes” story.


“The larger the sceptor the smaller the..”

People are fakes and easily manipulated.  That’s the obvious lesson here.

This lines up very nicely indeed with the Mustachian view of luxury. Luxury is a sucker’s play, a thin veneer papered over experiences and commodities cynically by marketers, in order to make them more expensive and profitable.

But there’s another interpretation of this finding. And that comes from the recognition that the subjects experienced more pleasure from drinking the exact same wine simply by being told that it was more expensive. What a bargain!

Being tricked costs nothing, and delivers extra happiness.  Sign me up.

This is similar to the placebo effect whereby study subjects who are given a inert substance like sugar water and told that it is medicine, experience relief from their illness.

My feeling is; who cares if we are not perfectly rational? We are human beings after all, not gas chromatograph machines. Isn’t the smart move to figure out how to manipulate our environment in order to experience more pleasure (and happiness) from the exact same inputs?

Isn’t happiness the name of the game, after all?

Which brings me to my latest obsession: clear ice.

Although I’ve been known to enjoy a glass of wine or beer with dinner, my wife finds the taste of alcohol unpleasant.

But sometimes when we go out to dinner she will partake in a sweet cocktail like a Mojito or a Pimm’s cup and quite enjoy it.

This, motivated me to learn how to make cocktails, so we could enjoy a drink together from time to time in the evening.

And as I am want to do I got pretty into cocktail making pretty quickly.

And soon I realized drinks were far less appetizing when served over cloudy ice cubes. Which prompted a quick Internet search which taught me about the concept of “unidirectional freezing” to make clear Ice. *

And the clear ice was an absolute revelation. The drinks poured over clear ice blocks were far more beautiful, and actually tasted better. (My frontal medial orbital cortex was undoubtedly stimulated by the jewel like brilliance of the clear ice blocks.)

And although there is a lot of information out there about dilution rates, and ice impurities affecting the taste of cocktails, I’m pretty sure the major player here is the old placebo effect rearing its (attractive) head.

After all, which of these drinks would you rather take a sip of?

FullSizeRenderThey contain the exact same ingredients in the exact same proportions, but one actually tastes better, brings far more pleasure, and delivers the stimulating experience of “luxury.”

Plus, the luxurious drink doesn’t cost a penny more, and comes with the enjoyable bonus of being able to learn how to carve your own clear ice cubes. (Trust me, this is a lot of fun.)

All in all making your own home made clear ice is a true value proposition. And it is luxury in the best sense of the word.

And if you are a tea totaller, no loss.  Pour your iced tea over a clear ice cube.  Trust me, it’s worth the bother.


*If you’re interested in making your own clear ice here is how you do it.

Step 1: procure an insulated container that will fit in your freezer. I like using a six pack cooler like this one, but an even cheaper option is to use Tupperware wrapped on five of six sides with two layers of duct insulation.

(The reason why the insulation is so important is that it allows the ice to freeze from the top down unidirectionally. All of the impurities and bubbles get pushed by the growing mass of ice towards the bottom of the cooler leaving the top sections crystal clear and beautiful.)

Step 2: fill the cooler 80 to 90% full with water. And put it in the freezer.

Step 3: 24 to 36 hours later remove the cooler from the freezer. and let it sit out for 15 to 30 minutes.

Remove the ice block. There should be a little area of unfrozen water or cloudy ice near the bottom, encased in clear ice. It will look like this.


Step 4: After letting the ice warm for 20 minutes or so, using a hefty knife and a hammer cleave away all of the cloudy and/or unfrozen parts of the ice block.


Step 5: score and then Cleave the clear ice into six equal cubes by tapping your knife with multiple little taps of the hammer.

Check out this dude: he is the sine qua none of ice cleaving.

Step 6: using a sharp pairing knife. Even out the cubes and create any designs (such as a jewel cut or sphere) that you desire.

IMG_5516As a parting shot here is probably my favorite ice carving bartender video. Look and learn.  I love this guy’s approach.  So japanese.




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18 Responses to “Rocking Luxury”

  1. mike February 23, 2015 at 5:30 am #

    Neat! But I do think there is a caveat to the statement “being tricked costs nothing”. If the folks in the experiment who were told their wine was $90 decide they liked it SO much that they should start buying $90 wine regularly, I’d say it cost them quite a bit.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. February 23, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

      This is true Mike. It really depends on who’s doing the tricking. If you are “tricking” yourself it’s free. If you are being unwittingly tricked, the cost can be exorbitant.

      I think that embracing one’s own irrationality is the only rational thing to do!


  2. Robert February 23, 2015 at 6:16 am #

    Couldn’t you just close your eyes when drinking and get the same effect?! LOL.
    I can imagine that if you put an MMM type person on the fMRI and offered 2 ‘different’ wines, their medial orbital frontal cortex would light up when they drank the one they were told was least expensive. In other words, I suspect when one is ‘converted’ or has a paradigm shift in values, then what brings pleasure shifts as well.

    Since I’m a teetotaler, this has never been something I’ve considered, but I found your article interesting because it reminded me of zone refining, a technique used, for instance, in the semiconductor industry. Maybe you can freeze water in rods and then pass them through an annular resistance heater. :-)
    More seriously, here’s an interesting refinement of the method you describe, and one which it seems to me might save some nasty finger cuts:

    Also, this might be of interest:
    ( has a discussion on the topic of clear ice and these were links I found there).

    • Miles Dividend M.D. February 23, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

      Robert, interesting hypothesis about Mustachians.

      My guess is that mustachian’s MOFC would light up even more because they were being PAID to drink EXPENSIVE wine for FREE!

      I’ve seen that alcademics article before and its cool. But aren’t you a little wary of using non food grade plastic as a mold?

      Also ice carving is the best part. I used silicone large cube ice trays in my cooler at first, but I liked both the finished product and the process better with my current method.

      I definitely had you in mind with my teetotaller comment, but I suspect even an ultra rational fellow like you would be swayed by the experience of drinking iced tea over a jewel like cube of glistening ice!


      • Robert February 23, 2015 at 8:22 pm #

        Haha! Got you fooled–I don’t drink tea either! Except the caffeine-free herbal kind. But what can I say? I’m not entirely consistent as I do eat chocolate from time to time. LOL.

        Good one on the mustachians lighting up for being paid to drink free wine! ggg

        As for the plastic–I probably wouldn’t worry much about it myself, but if a concern, a person could always use one of many food-grade plastic containers on the market. Tall plastic drinking glasses, for example.

        As for the aesthetic experience itself, I guess I shouldn’t knock it until I’ve tried it, but I suspect I’d not be that impressed. Truth is, I’m lazy. If it takes a lot of effort to achieve the same functionality as I can get for low or zero effort, I’ll generally opt for the latter. It isn’t that I’m totally devoid of an aesthetic sense. I appreciate beauty, but generally more in the natural realm than man-made. Put me in a wilderness area or national park away from the crowds and I am awestruck. But when it comes to ice cubes? I’m quite confident that if you made one for me and served some delicious Red Zinger tea in it, I’d be appreciative of your hospitality and too polite to say anything besides make nice remarks about its beauty, but to myself I’d be thinking, “I’d just use regular ice cubes.” It would be wasted on me.

        • Miles Dividend M.D. February 23, 2015 at 8:53 pm #


          There is no arguing with the engineering mindset. It is logically infallible and completely incomprehensible!

  3. Mohammad February 23, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    Great post on this happiness topic. Creating happiness instead of paying for it is free essentially. Sometimes it’s mimicking the “expensive” things in life and other times is just finding a way to trick our brains to perceive something as finer/better. Maybe that’s what makes the more frugal types happier having less than more.
    And thanks for the cool ice cube making video, very cool.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. February 23, 2015 at 7:42 pm #


      I’m glad you liked the videos.

      As you point out, so much of life’s enjoyment is determined by the 6 inches between our ears.

      Maybe our biggest challenge (and reward) is hacking our own happiness?

  4. Kat February 23, 2015 at 8:43 pm #

    My gosh, my day just wouldn’t be the same without y’all in it! Sending hellos and appreciation!

    And, fortunately, I don’t use ice hardly ever, because I’d need a cupboard of Band-Aids and several decades of more patience!

    • Miles Dividend M.D. February 23, 2015 at 8:51 pm #

      Kat! Cuts heal. Trust me. First hand experience. Pun intended

  5. Bob Werner February 24, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

    Great post as I have researched clear ice in the past and found the process fascinating. Can’t imagine why someone would put ice in a single malt though?

    And yes, I agree that the fMRI would look different for people depending on their perspective.

    I would assume that my Starbucks addicted daughter’s fMRI would light up upon drinking the coffee but mine would go dead upon paying for it. So I think you would have a different result if the subjects were asked to pay for the wine?

    I think getting free wine would light up my brain a bit and if I were told the free wine was expensive it would light up more. People like “free” thus the popularity of BOGO promotions.

    You have definitely encouraged me to do some ice carving. By the way, Sonic has the best over the counter ice available.

    • Miles Dividend MD February 24, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

      Who said anything about single malt? That was rittenhouse 100 proof rye pictured.

      But I will admit that I like single malt scotch over a rock of clear ice better than I like it neat.

      The first sip is lip tingling strong and peaty, but as it slowly dilutes it becomes more drinkable and smooth.

      (To each his own.)

      Incidentally report back on your experiences with clear ice. I think you’ll like it.

      I’m not sure we have any sonics in portland so I guess I’m stuck making my own. Darn.


  6. Doug March 1, 2015 at 8:48 am #


    This post made me think of Warren Buffet and the time he was offered a pour of a vintage and expensive wine. Instead of enjoying a sip and succumbing to the subtle effects of his MOFC, he instead put his hand over the glass and said, “no thanks, I’ll take the cash”. Probably a wise move but I, on the other hand, would take the wine and let the cortex work its magic. After all, how many yachts do we need to have to ski behind?

    As for the ice I think it is a thing of beauty and can’t wait to try it. I believe that size does matter. A single large cube, compared to your glass on the right of multiple cubes, has its own effect regardless of the clarity. But add the diamond like crystal clearness and now we have a double whammy on the MOFC.

    It is posts like these that keep me coming back to your site. Variety is the spice of life. Nice work as always. To close I would like to mention that I recently had the chance to spend a weekend in your city and thoroughly enjoyed much of what it had to offer. The food carts were fun. Shigezo(sp?), Grassa, and the morning market at PSU were nice finds, as were the “Portland Pints” and runs along and across the Willamette. Love those bridges. Regardless, you live in a very beautiful city and I very much look forward to a return in the future.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. March 1, 2015 at 8:54 pm #


      That is a great Buffet quote, and one that was new to me. I have a feeling that for Buffet personal happiness and objective valuation are very closely linked, if not identically located within his own neural circuits. (Which is probably why he is the greatest investor ever- he’s wired that way.)

      I’m glad you liked Portland. I love it too and don’t intend to leave. Let me know next time you come this way and I’ll gladly add to your list of eating (and drinking) spots.

      Have fun with the ice!


  7. patrickb March 8, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    Try boiling the water first before freezing it. Doing so expells the dissolved gases and makes clear ice when frozen.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. March 8, 2015 at 5:08 pm #


      Thanks for the tip. I’ve seen this boiling technique described before, and also some comments suggesting that it was apocryphal. But I’ve never tried it myself in a side by side experiment. Have you?


  8. Kat April 22, 2015 at 10:00 am #

    Something is wrong with my brain. I usually experience the opposite feelings when told the price of something.

    If I try something delicious and find out it’s very expensive I feel a strong feeling of anxiety and sadness because I know I can’t afford to enjoy it regularly. I feel a sense of scarcity which causes me anxiety.

    If I try something delicious and find out it’s very cheap I feel a strong feeling of pleasure knowing I can enjoy this regularly. I actually tend to enjoy something more strongly if I think it is inexpensive.

    Surely these studies observed some people with this sort of brain pattern?

    • Miles Dividend M.D. April 22, 2015 at 11:26 am #


      I feel the same way. I love a bargain and hate getting ripped off.

      But note in the study that the subjects weren’t purchasing anything, but were merely tasting (for free) wines of different apparent values. That is an important distinction I think, and I suspect that I would be equally influenced in such a trial.


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