Buy Happiness by Not Buying Items

by G
7 years ago

apple storeDon't buy that iPad -- at least not yet -- if you want to be happy this summer.

That, in short, is the takeaway I get from a recent article in the New York Times, which points out that lining up to buy the latest gadget actually screws you out of a lot of happiness. Turns out, foregoing shiny things can feel more like satisfaction than sacrifice. And patience isn't just a virtue, it can also mean prolonged pleasure. From the article:

New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses.

That article begins with the tale of one Tammy Strobel, a 31-year-old Portland resident better known in the blogosphere as the author of RowdyKittens, a blog about "social change through simple living." Tammy lives car-free but bike-rich in a 400-square-foot apartment that houses her bare bones wardrobe and toiletries collection -- reduced down to just 100 items -- and a husband called Logan Smith.

While not everyone may be willing to get that hardcore about simple living, Tammy's RowdyKittens offers an encouraging antidote to the conspicuous consumption so often popularized by the mass media. In fact, Tammy has a brilliant way of making unnecessary spending seem kinda grody and undesirable. What advertisers term "shopping therapy," Tammy dubs "lifestyle creep" which is "when we try to keep up with the mythical Joneses and end up unhappy and in debt." Instead of the over-spending and over-working cycle, Tammy big ups "moodling" -- a term coiled by Brenda Ueland, who said, “imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

Moodling's obviously easier to enjoy if you're not worrying about debt and overtime -- if you simplify your life enough to ease your mind. I think that's part of what Susan Fowler meant when she shared on BlogHer how she got out of $45,000 worth of debt in 3 years. While her post is titled "Sacrifice" -- and does indeed detail the many things she had to sacrifice to get out of debt -- Susan's post makes scrimping sound not only funny, but also kind of fun:

It's actually quite liberating. But you don't know that until you do it. When there aren't 6 bottles of lotion crammed into your bathroom cabinets, you have a lot more space. And you start to enjoy the little things in life. You really appreciate birthday gifts. And if someone gives you body lotion, you get a little excited because that means you won't have to spend money buying that next month!

On a very basic level, both Tammy and Susan are talking about choosing a happy life over owning stuff. This choice is what Kim Woodbridge at (Anti) Social Development also points to in her post about her car-free lifestyle. Kim won't take a job with a bigger paycheck if it means spending big chunk of her life fighting traffic jams behind the wheel:

People at my office used to tell me that I was “lucky” to live so close to work. Umm … not really. I chose my apartment or job based on how close it was. Proximity has always been more important to me than money.

That smaller paycheck still gets Kim an apartment she likes in a city she enjoys living in -- along with many amenities that make her happy like a walkable neighborhood, neighbors she knows, and good, healthy food:

I don’t have a lot of money. I’ve decided that paying more to shop locally and to buy nutritious and organic food was a priority to me. But then, I don’t have a mortgage, car payment, car insurance, or unnecessary cable television so the additional expense is negligible.

peaches from the Santa Monica farmers marketThough I do still own a car, I rarely drive, and like Kim, I too have chosen location over, well, pretty much everything else. Rent isn't cheap in my Santa Monica neighborhood, but I can bike or walk to the beach for a little R&R, the co-op for fair trade organic chocolate, the farmers market for organic local peaches, and the LEED-certified library for free reads and free wifi -- all in perfect SoCal weather sweetened by the ocean breeze.

That doesn't mean I don't covet things -- or even actually need things at times. For those instances, I have my Amazon wish list -- which by the way conveniently lets you add items from any website in addition to what Amazon has in stock. While you may think this wish list simply encourages stuff lust, I use my wish list primarily NOT to buy stuff I'm tempted to buy.

Here's how: Whenever I long for some item, I add it to my wish list -- which lets me stop dwelling on how much I want that item because, well, it's on the list and I'll remember to buy it later. Usually, though, I'll return to the list later to find that my once-unbearable longing for whatever that item was has disappeared completely -- so I'll end up just deleting most items from my list. The few items I still crave remain listed -- and either get bought for me on birthdays and holidays by friends, family members, blog fans (hint, hint) -- and sometimes, myself.

No, the delayed gratification doesn't mean months of agony due to unfulfilled longing. As the New York Times points out, "anticipation increases happiness." Today, I will relish the pleasure I expect to get when one day, some nice person decides to finally buy that VitaMix for me. I'll mull over this happy thought while walking over to the farmers market to get some fresh, organic fruit to blend manually. You know -- by chewing.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel also blogs at

Top photo by coolmikeol; bottom photo by Siel

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