August 09, 2004

How not to buy happiness. In effect, I wish to propose two different answers to the question “Does money buy happiness?”

"Considerable evidence suggests that if we use an increase in our incomes, as many of us do, simply to buy bigger houses and more expensive cars, then we do not end up any happier than before. But if we use an increase in our incomes to buy more of certain inconspicuous goods–such as freedom from a long commute or a stressful job–then the evidence paints a very different picture. The less we spend on conspicuous consumption goods, the better we can afford to alleviate congestion; and the more time we can devote to family and friends, to exercise, sleep, travel, and other restorative activities. On the best available evidence, reallocating our time and money in these and similar ways would result in healthier, longer– and happier–lives."

  • *Great* article. I don't know what it is about us that makes it easy to devalue time. As someone who passed up a much higher income for more of the stuff, I knew that at least in the former job, if I had a bad day/week/month I could say to myself "well at least I have the money" and could then spend that on a vacation or what have you -- happiness replacements or inducements. I think a lot of people have experience with unpleasant, high-paying jobs, where they can't seem to save a lot because they need to lavish themselves with rewards to feel halfway human. But I adjust to time more easily than any other luxury item. Give me an hour and I'll get an hour's work done. Give me a week and I'll get an hour's work done. I appreciate time more when it's spent, but I love wasting it, and when it's gone, it's gone. So not surprised that some people opt for bigger stereos/cars/televisions instead. One note, though: in looking at his thought experiments, I can't help but feel that if the tradeoff could somehow be avoided (eg: that 4000 sq ft house *and* the 4 week vacation) that more would *always* be better. I don't think so, especially when we factor in environmental degradation, but perhaps that's something that should be factored into the "resource" end of the author's equation. (so long as I can consider a forest a resource without needing to cut it down)
  • I volunteer to be the test subject to find out if money does buy happiness. Someone front up about $1 mil and give it to me. I'll get back to you in six months if I'm happier.
  • Two ways to stay happy - get paid more or desire less. This article says so. Another article that may be of interest, also from Daedalus.
  • I'm going with "desire less", but you knew I'd say that, didn't you?
  • Mississippi Review: The Happiness Issue
  • desire less [snark]How truly unAmerican. I know it's a cliche, but doesn't everybody want it all? More vacation time, and more stuff, all in one shiny package? Can't be done? We'll invent something shiny to do it! Like robots! Robots to take care of all that other stuff we don't have time for. [/snark] Seriously, tho. Although I like the idea, I can't help but think the larger forces of the world are conspiring against this philosophy. Europe certainly knows how to set aside time to enjoy life, but that's all coming under enourmous pressure. Set aside a week to holiday at the beach, and before you get back, some Chinese factory is turning out a fairly useful copy of your product at one tenth the price ... retail. You live longer only to find yourself outliving your savings. Your social security would hold up, only nobody (yourself included) bothered having enough babies to support the demographic ponzi pyramid. I sometimes half seriously think we should bring back smoking. Big time. Maybe make it mandatory. Everybody dies when they're 50, and the mad money rolling in from cigarette taxes pays for free healthcare for all and 6 week paid vacations. OK. Maybe not. Now where did I put that Roomba?
  • I like how at the end, the author reinvents "keeping up with the Joneses" - only ups the stakes by likening it to a domestic "arms race". There are some things he doesn't really address. Like how culture plays into people's expecations. People in Society A may have all been raised in houses of 4,000 feet, with a large back yard and a picket fence. Even with the advantages of consuming less, living in a smaller house, etc, their expectations are set for something else completely different - and anything less is a come down. I've seen this when talking to people who grew up in large suburban houses versus small houses or apartments. I've also seen it as a difference between North America and Europe. Coming to the UK, I find houses very small here (and I grew up in a small apartment). And furnishing a European sized house in Canada is very difficult - the only store that sells furniture that would fit is Ikea. Everything else is sized for that 4,000 sqfoot house. I try to explain to people that, yeah, the houses are smaller, but the cities are nicer - but they just think "Why should I have to live in a smaller house?" So, aside from just talking about how people might be happier if they spent differently (which I definately agree with) - how do you tell someone who just expects a 4,000 sq ft house that they might be happier with only 3000 sq ft? (Or one car versus two, or a smaller lawn and shorter commute, or less stress but also less money...)
  • But LarimdaME, I already get free healthcare and six weeks paid holidays (plus 15 paid stautory and customary holidays), its not all its cracked up to be.
  • biffa - can you please elaborate?
  • 'He who dies with the most toys wins!' -- American slogan in the 1980s
  • "transumer" smells funny. I think these people are ahead of themselves.