Less Stuff Equals More Happiness

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“The things we are trained to think make us happy, like having a new car every couple of years and buying the latest fashions, don’t make us happy.”

These are the words of the filmmaker behind a documentary called “Happy,” quoted in a NY Times story that rounds up all sorts of academic input, personal anecdotes, and studies that all point to the fact that the endless act of acquiring cooler, swankier, flashier, and plain more and more stuff does not make you happy. The story makes the case that, largely due to a recession-induced reevaluation of what’s really important in life, conspicuous consumption has been replaced by a more “calculated consumption.” Here’s one of the experts called upon for quotes in the piece:

“We’re moving from a conspicuous consumption — which is ‘buy without regard’ — to a calculated consumption,” says Marshal Cohen, an analyst at the NPD Group, the retailing research and consulting firm.

Hmmm… I’d argue that conspicuous consumption is calculated, in its own way—calculated to be showy, to be conspicuous. But the point, I think, is that consumers are making different spending calculations nowadays. Based on way too much personal experience, they’re aware that so many of the things available for purchase are silly, wasteful, often disposable indulgences that won’t bring them much happiness—and, in fact, may wind up filling them will feelings of emptiness, regret, and guilt.

Another bit of wisdom in the story comes courtesy of a woman who scaled back her lifestyle big time, getting rid of most of her possessions and happily making due with a simple, debt-free life with her husband in a 400-square-foot apartment. She says:

“The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false … I really believe that the acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness.”

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