The Simple Path to Happiness

According to the NY Times article “But Will it Make You Happy?” research suggests that simplifying our lives and spending our money on experiences rather than objects will help increase our happiness. 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.

The article tells about Tammy Strobel, who, along with her husband, downsized into a 400-square-foot studio with only 100 personal items each. They live on Tammy’s $24,000-a-year income in Portland, Oregon, have no debt, and apparently they’ve never been happier. Tammy writes about her experiences on her blog, rowdykittens.com.

This is an interesting idea to me. For the past month or so I’ve been craving a smaller space. I’m feeling burdened by our 1400-square-foot home. I like the shade we get from the giant ash tree in our backyard, and I like being able to grow food in our garden, but it’s a lot to keep up with. Valuing our time with our kids over time with the lawnmower, we’ve hired someone to take care of the lawn. For the house, we have someone coming in to clean once a month, which gives me a deadline to pick up the clutter and gets the bathtub clean more often than I’d otherwise get to it. But I’d rather just have less to clean and less to mow (and water).

I know two families who are significantly downsizing for the sake of living a long-desired lifestyle. One family sold most of their possessions and moved with their two kids onto a sailboat. The other family are selling most of their stuff and moving with their two kids to Kotzebue, Alaska, near the Bering Strait. You can only get there by plane or by boat. I have yet another friend who is traveling around the world for a year with only what fits into her backpack. None of these specific paths appeals to me, but the downsizing really does. I’ve donated three VW Jetta-loads of stuff from our house already. It felt wonderful, but the stuff we have still feels like too much. Two years ago, we lived in an 850-square-foot apartment and were pretty happy. It didn’t take us long at all to up-size, but the downsizing seems to be more of a challenge.

What are your thoughts? Does downsizing lead to greater happiness, or does “stuff” keep you happy?

One comment

  1. Tucker Bradford · August 23, 2010

    Cool, I’ve been linked 🙂 Well you probably know how I feel about downsizing, but what I think is truly remarkable is how its affected the kids. They are both noticeably happier and easier to manage (though Vick might beg to differ on the latter).

    Neither of them have more than a dozen toys, and what they do have are of the play silk and costume variety. They are both becoming more expressive and creative and are learning to live with and play with each other in ways that they didn’t when we were homebound.

    I strongly believe that experiences are worth more than stuff when it comes to creating and maintaining happiness. With stuff, the acquisition of a thing left me momentarily happy but was soon shadowed by the next thing on my list. Conversely, with experiences, I tend to spend a lot of time remembering and each recollection causes additional joy. Its happiness begetting happiness.

    Like

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