Does having more stuff make us happier?

May 27, 2008 | By | 3 Replies More

The title to this post is a teaser, of course. After a certain point, having more stuff does not make people happier.

In his new book, Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and a Durable Future (2007), Bill McKibben asks why having more stuff usually doesn’t make us happier. He considers several reasons.

You could argue, for instance, that we’ve simply began to run out of useful or fun new things-that despite vast numbers of patents, there’s not much we can buy that really runs much chance of making us happier. Those who fly frequently (a good slice of the most affluent) will be familiar, for example, with the ubiquitous SkyMall catalog …

If satiation isn’t what has cast a pall over our satisfaction, then perhaps the pall is the effect of all that economic buildup: if growth has filled the field behind your house with mega-mansions and you can see the horizon anymore, maybe that loss cancels out the effect of the flat screen TV. Or maybe the pall is cast by the fact that more of us have had to sit work more hours to afford all that new stuff. Or perhaps were worried about keeping thieves from taking our stuff-or, more likely, wondering how we’ll be able to hold on to it as an increasingly insecure old age looms. Most of all, perhaps the very act of acquiring so much stuff has turned us evermore into individuals and ever less and to members of a community, isolating us in a way that runs contrary to our most basic instincts.

For the moment, however, the why is less important than the simple fact. We’re richer, but were not happier.

In fact, the more we study the question, the less important affluence seems to be to human happiness. In one open-ended British questionnaire, people were asked about the factors that make up “quality of life.” They named everything from “family and home life” to “equality and justice,” and when the results were tallied up, 71% of the answers were non-materialistic. The best predictor of happiness was health, followed by factors like being married. Income seems not to matter at all in France, Holland or England…

[Pages 37-38]

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. The anti-spam word for this entry was "borrow". Can you guess where I borrowed this?: "A man's life does not consist of the things he possesses". or this: "There is no new thing under the sun."

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    I'm enjoying LJC's use of anti-spam words to tie in ideas. It may become tiresome, but so far it amuses me.

    Luke 12:15 and Ecclesiastes 1:9 both document ancient folk wisdom. Apparently both of these have been attributed to Solomon, who probably learned them in his studies.

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I tell my younger son all the time that the real path to happiness is not money or that which you can buy. The secret of happiness is contentment. When you are content with what you have, when you feel secure in your shelter, clothing and nutrition, you can safely explore the objects of your curiosity. People find happiness in mental challenge, in exploring places and ideas. in creativity, in passion. Above all, the most joy comes from contributing to the improvement of world around us, by adding to it, not through a false sense of superiority purchased with a credit card.

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