When Money Buys Happiness

spentDo we shop compulsively, and if so, how can we stop?

It seems that most of our shopping behavior is in fact quite sensible. Geoffrey Miller’s new book, “Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior” seems to prove that.

In collaboration with John Tierney in the NYT Dr. Miller issued an open invitation to NYT readers to try this exercise:

List the ten most expensive things (products, services or experiences) that you have ever paid for (including houses, cars, university degrees, marriage ceremonies, divorce settlements and taxes). Then, list the ten items that you have ever bought that gave you the most happiness. Count how many items appear on both lists.

Over 200 people responded. The results are very interesting.
Items appearing on both lists most often were:

  • Houses
  • Higher education
  • Travel
  • Electronics and entertainment media
  • Some particular brands and models of cars

The items appearing much more on the ‘expensive’ than on the ‘happy’ lists were:

  • Children
  • Marriage ceremonies
  • Divorces
  • Taxes
  • Health insurance
  • Most cars
  • Boats

And the items appearing much more on the ‘happy’ than on the ‘expensive’ lists were:

  • Sharing meals with friends
  • Alcohol
  • Bicycles
  • Camping gear
  • Pets
  • Hobbies
  • Adult education
  • Church
  • Books
  • Music
  • Artwork
  • Leisure software
  • Quality beds

NYT Tierney Lab June 29, 2009: When Money buys you happiness

Have you bought anything lately that didn’t cost much but made you happy? Why exactly did you buy it? Describe the circumstances and your expectations at the time. What joy has it brought you since?

PS: See Tyler Cowen’s review of the book: “The core thesis is the Veblenesque point that marketing plays upon our weaknesses as evolved, biological creatures, obsessed with signaling”. Miller provides “proposals for lowering the cost of our signaling.”
See Colin Tudge’s review in Literary Review: “To find mates we must signal our mate-worthiness. This is best achieved not by shows of toughness and belligerence, but by displaying what are now recognised as ‘the big six’ qualities: intelligence, openness to ideas, conscientiousness, agreeableness, stability, and extraversion. In short, it pays to be nice, funny and creative.”

My generation of dummies

I’m an early Generation Xer, born 1961. Like Obama. Neil Howe compares us very unfavorably to the Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s). He calls us “The Dumbest Generation: The Kids are Alright. But Their Parents….” According to Howe, we

“have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. (…) prefer sound bites over seminars, video clips over articles, street smarts over lofty diplomas.

Early Xers … arrived too late to enter the most lucrative professions, by now glutted with boomer yuppies. Their only alternative was to pioneer the pragmatic, free-agent, low-credential lifestyle for which Generation X has since become famous…

Angling for promotions in the early 1990s, they got busy with self-help guides (yes, those “For Dummies” books) to learn all the subjects they were never taught the first time around…

Early Xers have certain strengths that many more learned people lack: They’re practical and resilient, they handle risk well, and they know how to improvise when even the experts don’t know the answer. As the global economy craters, they won’t keep leafing through a textbook. They may be a little rough around the edges, but their style usually gets the job done.”

Bring home the bacon

It’s Thanksgiving? Forget turkey. Bacon is better. Bacon? Have a closer look. Dolce tipped me off to The iPhone Bacon Case. It’s hand-felted in one piece and is available on dawanda.de, a site that lets artisans sell their handiwork as presents. Handmade, homespun, unique, precious, affordable, marvellous, well-designed. Maybe the Bacon Case is no longer available, after this amazing viral marketing story. I’d like one, too. But first we need to bring home the bacon to earn the phone.

Bicycling in DC

Biking is still dangerous in Washington, especially with the huge cars that take up so much of the street, but it’s nice to see this project. Smartbike DC is the first public bike rental service in the USA. It’s available by subscription, with docking points around the city. Clear Channel first initiated a program like this in Rennes and have operations in Scandinavia and Spain. Milan is coming soon. Holland and Germany already have similar bike rental operations by other operators using different systems. Nice to see so much competition to market a good idea. Will these bikes catch on?

Planet Oktoberfest

masskrugOnce a year this city goes totally nuts. I know enough people who can‘t stand the madness that is the Wiesn, as the Oktoberfest (www.oktoberfest.de) is known here.  A Wiese is a meadow, and that’s what the Theresienwiese, as the fairgrounds are called, once were, years ago, when King Ludwig and Queen Therese decided to celebrate their wedding here in 1810. In the first years the Oktoberfest was modeled on the ancient Olympics and was actually a sporting event. Today the only sports involved are raising a liter of beer in a glass mug (that‘s just over three pounds) and keeping your balance while you dance on the table (which is not allowed, but everybody does). Oh, and there’s finger wrestling, or Fingerhakln, of course, and running hurdles to get to the restrooms. So the disciplines aren’t too challenging. Continue reading Planet Oktoberfest