Friday, July 10, 2009
$20,000 Experiment in Happiness.....a failure. Or the best investment of 2000 hours.
We all seek joy and happiness. That seems to be the very purpose of our being. But in the U.S. especially, we continue to believe happiness comes from things we buy, whether it's a Porsche, an exotic trip, a fabulous haircut, or an upscale cup of cappuccino.
Yet every single study on happiness shows happiness comes from within us and is connected to our relationships with others, a sense of purpose to our lives, and doing good for others.
The temporary high that comes with buying a new dress, car, or even a house simply does not make people happier six months to a year later. This is true even of those who win the lottery, though each of us seems convinced WE would be the one exception, living happily ever after if we could just hit those lucky numbers.
About a year ago, we put new siding on our home. The house had had dark brown, dated, vertical cedar siding and in the ten years since we'd moved in, I'd dreamed of a bright, white, lighter, more modern home. We finally did reside, a white cement siding, partly due to the 300 or so woodpecker holes all over. And it does look great.
But the truth is, the new siding, as nice as it is, hasn't made me significantly happier or more joyful than before we spent the $20,000 (which included a few new windows and two doors). And I don't think that will change in the next 5 to 7 years. At my job teaching law part-time, I clear $10 an hour after taxes, commute, dry cleaning, occasional baby sitting costs, etc. So the siding "cost" me 2000 hours. (My husband clears considerably more as a corporate attorney, but I always use my own salary to assess expenditures).
So the question is, how would those 2000 hours have been best invested for long term happiness? Where would the best return be? According to most studies on happiness, those 2000 hours would give the best long term return spent with family, volunteering, spent in nature, spent in "flow" activities, spent building community or with friends.
This analysis did make me decide against a sun-room, which I'd long wanted to have. The cost with a foundation was about $25,000, and though I love the House Beautiful version of myself with a cup of green tea, sitting on a white wicker lounge, perusing a good book, I think I can find even more long term happiness investing those work hours elsewhere.
Knowlege + Action = Financial Independence
Make a list of ten purchases or home improvements you are considering. Next to each, put the number of hours you would need to work to get the item. Then google about three studies on happiness and just sit there and make some note to yourself. You may or may not make the purchase, but either way, you will be making a more informed choice.