Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Take the Happiness Pledge

Ezra Klein has found the key to happiness, and it came in the form of Thanksgiving Dinner.
Each Thanksgiving, our litany of gratitude suggests that, on some level, we know that [our happiness comes from other people]. But in the time between each Thanksgiving, we prove, rather decisively, that we don't know it all that well. Because so much as "people" happiness tends to rule our memories, "thing" happiness, or at least the promise of it, has a habit of governing our actions. How else to explain the ceaseless march for more hours at work, for larger incomes, for bigger houses (that, as we're rapidly finding out, we couldn't really afford in the first place)? How else to explain the fact that the United States, alone among developed nations, does not guarantee its workers even one day of compensated vacation time (France, by contrast, guarantees 30)?

He goes on to cite studies and logic in support of his case that we're trading happiness for possessions, and then sums it all up with this:
But there's an easy solution. Stop. Pull out of the competition. Seriously ask whether you want to continue trading away your time for your stuff. And that requires ignoring what your neighbors have. It requires shutting your eyes against short-term incentives and trying to remember what actually makes you happy, what you tend to remember when each year closes out. It requires keeping a little of that Thanksgiving litany in mind, even after the meal is forgotten and marshmallows and yams again seem an absurd combination.

I really think he got this right. I mean, we all know it, we've heard it for years, that keeping up with the Jones' isn't going to do anything but break our banks. But the novel suggestion of just pulling out of the rat race? It sounds insane! Which means it just might work.

I think that if I ponder this idea, and present it in just the right light, that we could get ourselves to stop. Not that we really buy things because our neighbors have them. But, we do tend to buy things that make us happy today, and might not make us happy tomorrow. I often think about where the money from my last paycheck went, and it's rather sad to realize that it bought little of lasting value. Was it worth it in the short term? Hell, yeah. But, in the long term it has no effect.

So, I think that I'll make this pledge:
I pledge to consider each purchase that I make and ask myself if it will still make me happy in a week, a month or a year. I will ask myself if there is something I could trade my time and money for that would make me happier longer. I will not trade my time and money for things that do not matter. I will consider what sort of happiness there is to be had, and trade my time and money for that instead.

Don't forget to read the entire article, Winning the Rat Race by Quitting it, to get a better perspective on why this actually means so much. If you're with me on this, I'd love to know why. Feel free to comment or link to your own blog on the topic. Come to think of it, if you disagree, or are simply ambivalent about it, I think you should also explain why.

(h/t Democracy for Utah)

1 comment:

  1. I've thought a lot about this issue the past few years, but the holiday season really brings it up in a big way.

    My husband and I both work for non-profits and therefore don't make a lot. But we are both doing something we feel is benefitting the world -- and my job is really fun about 75% of the time, so that's an added bonus.

    We do without a lot, and a lot of people feel sorry for us. But I think we are pretty happy for the most part.

    Back in about 1996, while a single mom of a toddler, I decided to try an experiment. I was moving into a new apartment, and I decided that I wasn't going to take a TV with me. I lived without a TV for 2 years and it changed the quality of my life in some subtle but very positive ways -- the most noitcible difference was that my creative energy buzzed on a much higher lever. Over those 2 year I had offer after offer from friends and family and even aquaintances of a castoff TV. Most didn't understand that I was doing it on purpose.

    Thanks for the article.


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