Just about every incremental purchase we make (of both goods and services), has the goal of boosting our happiness – whether we realize it or not.
- The milkshake on the way to work to keep you company? Happiness.
- The stylish new wardrobe to show off at work? Happiness.
- The craft beer(s) with your buddies? Happiness.
- The fancy overpriced haircut that we think makes us look a few years younger? Happiness.
- The nostalgia from the concert tickets to see one of your favorite artists from your teenage years? Happiness.
- The brand new SUV that you “just feel like” was made for you? Happiness.
- The social media jealousy-inducing trip to Costa Rica? Happiness.
What’s wrong with a little more happiness in our lives, after all?
Here’s the thing – when consumption wins over our contentment, research repeatedly shows that the happiness we seek and sometimes gain from our consumption is fleeting. We get a very temporary boost of dopamine (if we’re lucky). Then, we quickly return to our natural state of being. Never quite being satiated, we seek out more. And, as evidenced by many uber wealthy consumers (actually, almost every consumer), “more” is never quite “enough”.
In fact, one could summarize the happiness promise that drives modern capitalistic economies simply as:
Work (time) -> money -> consumption of goods/services in the pursuit of happiness -> temporary dopamine boost -> return to normalcy -> repeat
Need evidence? Despite higher income levels, economic growth, and far more stuff than ever before, happiness levels in the United States have actually decreased over the last 40 years.
What is the solution to this hedonic treadmill of chasing happiness through consumption that usually leads to lifestyle creep, the loss of time and money, and not much else?
Stop chasing happiness through consumption. Realize and acknowledge it for being the mirage that it is.
If you’re going to spend your money on purchases aside from life sustaining needs, focus instead on removing negatives from your life. For example:
- If you wake up every morning with back pain, maybe it’s time to purchase a new mattress.
- If you are suffering from depression/anxiety, spend money on therapy/doctors visits/medicine.
- If you are overweight, invest in home exercise equipment and healthy food.
- If your old computer keeps crashing on you and wasting your time with every reboot, buy a new computer.
- If you love running or hiking, but it leaves your feet in pain, buy some new shoes.
- If your dishwasher is broke, and you spend 15 minutes every night washing dishes, buy a new dishwasher or get your old one repaired.
- If you are worried that your outdated bike will fall apart on the road, and it’s preventing you from biking, buy a newer bike.
If there are 5, 10, 20 of these negatives in your life, every single day, the additive negative effects can definitely put a damper on life. When done wisely, removing them can be a very powerful and efficient way to enhance your life.
Start there. Question every purchase. Reduce your cognitive load to limit purchase decisions in the first place.. And always practice gratitude. This simple shift in consumption framework/mindset can change everything.
I don’t think the income graph is inflation adjusted. See: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/
Thus, both income and happiness are more or less stable.
Yeah, I shared that graph mostly for the happiness levels. Not sure why they didn’t adjust income for inflation (and I was not able to find a graph that did that also showed happiness levels over time). Nevertheless, inflation adjusted median household income is at an all time high. https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA646N
I love this article! Well, all of it except the examples of alternative spending. I think if your list was about ways to Practice Gratitude it would be far more helpful. If Mindfulness and Gratitude become a daily practice, the solutions to each scenario would be quite different. Still, your article was a pleasant surprise from a website about finance.
In Peace & Gratitude my friend.
Great advice. I vividly remember a conversation my fiance and I had a few years ago regarding the theory of hedonic adaptation. It was actually this discussion that was one of the major reasons we decided to make major cuts in our yearly consumption habits, and work towards financial independence. I couldn’t believe that paraplegic accident victims returned to essentially their original happiness levels over time, as did people who won the lottery. If that was true, then why the heck were we wasting so much money on rent on a fancy Santa Monica apartment if we’d probably be just as happy 6 months down the road in a smaller, much more affordable space? Understanding hedonic adaptation really is the key to making good choices!
100% agree with this. I have worked on wall street for over the past decade and the majority of the people I know are not happy. Lifestyle creep kills your happiness.
Most of my colleagues that I have worked with make over high six figures and complain that they do not feel rich. Always comparing themselves to others making significantly more than them. They spend most of their money on a very nice apartment and send their kids to private schools.