2M media/Shutterstock
Source: 2M media/Shutterstock

Nearly 60% of people said they had an emotional attachment to a favorite mug in a survey by the Heinz company. About 40% said their special mug was irreplaceable, and about one-third said they would be devastated if it broke.

But you probably didn’t need a survey to tell you that many of us become quite emotionally, irrationally attached to our favorite mugs. Take my boyfriend’s current mug of choice: It’s small, chipped and emblazoned with a hackneyed phrase, but his affection for it far surpasses any objective worth.

See, my 60ish boyfriend has been around since my grandson, Dylan, was born. But because we aren’t married, we careful grown-ups stopped short of referring to him as one of Dylan’s grandfathers. A couple of Christmases ago, Dylan, by then a second-grader, made a statement by picking out and paying for the “World’s Greatest Grandpa” mug himself.

Now it holds pride of place on the kitchen shelf.

Personally, I’m partial to a mug in an autumnal shade of orange, which reminds me of a lovely fall weekend my boyfriend and I spent in St. Germain, Wisconsin. Because both of our prized mugs have shared associations, just seeing one of us using his or her special mug can bring up warm, fuzzy feelings in the other. But woe be to either of us who has the audacity to actually drink from the other’s mug.

Maybe you cherish your own favorite mug and feel ultra-possessive about it. Here's the background on its deep psychological appeal:

Hey, That’s My Mug

Part of the pull is the simple sense of personal ownership. Several studies of the endowment effect—the tendency for people to overvalue their own possessions—actually looked at people’s valuations of their coffee mugs. Researchers found that people ascribed greater value to a mug when they owned it.

If you’ve ever grabbed another person’s prized mug in the break room or at a relative’s house, you know how intensely possessive mug owners can be. In the Heinz survey, one-sixth of participants admitted that they would sulk if someone else use their mug.

It Reminds Me of the Time…

Yet there's something more going on here: People are more likely to be obsessed with a favorite mug than, say, a favorite fork. One reason: Mugs are common gifts, souvenirs and keepsakes, so we often associate them with a beloved person, place, or time. The emotions the mug evokes can be potent, even if you aren’t aware of the source.

Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, a psychotherapist and relationship coach in McLean, Virginia, says she’s particularly attached to a sturdy, brown mug she has owned for years. “I acquired it one incredible summer I spent living at the beach when I was 22,” she says. “When I look at or drink from my mug, it evokes feelings associated with that summer. There’s just something about it that feels good and feels safe, even if it’s on an unconscious level...It provides continuity with the past and reminds me of who I used to be.”

My Mug Really Gets Me

Another notable thing about mugs is that many are embellished with slogans, quotes or logos, some of them inspirational or aspirational. Others just make you smile. Either way, many favorite mugs convey a personally meaningful message.

Certain mugs inform others about your identity and affiliations. A mug may proclaim your alma mater or favorite sports team, or let others know that you’re a dog or cat lover, proud parent, or rabid Star Wars fan. In other cases, the message is self-directed. Chicago psychotherapist Kelley Kitley, LCSW, has a collection of mugs, and the one she chooses at any given time depends on the type of encouragement she’s craving at the moment. “If I feel sluggish and need extra oomph, I’ll use my Wonder Woman mug,” she says. “If I need extra pep in my step at work, I’ll use my Boss Lady mug.”

Warm Mug, Warm Heart

Mugs also earn our affection because of the hot beverages they contain. Research shows that just wrapping your hands around a warm mug can conjure up warm feelings toward others. Pair that with the enticing flavors and aromas of coffee, tea, or cocoa, and you’ve got a richly rewarding experience. In addition, many hot drinks have chemical properties that keep us reaching for our mugs, day in and day out. Caffeinated coffee and tea (and sometimes even decaf, through the power of expectation) can boost alertness. There’s some evidence that the flavanols in cocoa may reduce mental fatigue as well.

(When you’re ready to wind down, preliminary studies suggest chamomile tea may help ease anxiety. And a mug of warm milk, while not a magic sleep elixir, contains the mix of protein and carbs that many dietitians recommend for a late-night snack.)

I Wake Up With My Mug

Sipping a hot beverage from a trusty mug is often part of a cozy, comforting routine. “We typically use mugs to get us going in the morning or to soothe us in the evening,” says Katherine Schafler, LMHC, a New York City psychotherapist and in-house therapist at Google. “Our mugs become these helpful, quiet, loyal sidekicks.”

Schafler likes to greet the day with caffeine-rich guayusa tea sipping from a bright yellow mug. “I get up early just so I can have a good chunk of time to myself,” she says. “I have an hour or two where I’m working and writing and reading, and it’s just me and my mug and the dogs at my feet. It’s such a peaceful time of day.”

Be in the Coffee Moment

Kitley also likes to rise early, between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m., to enjoy some quality time with her mug. “The ritual of brewing the coffee, holding the mug, and sipping the coffee is a mindful exercise for me,” says the business owner and mother of four. “The mug feels nice in my hands. The aroma of the coffee smells wonderful, and it tastes good. When I touch the mug, it’s warm and feels soothing. And when I set it down on the table, it makes a satisfying sound.”

Those mindful moments with her mug set a positive tone for the rest of the day, she says: "When I travel and I don’t have that morning ritual, drinking coffee just isn’t as fun for me.”

Why do you love your favorite mug? Tell us in a Comment.

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