What we buy versus what makes us happy

July 2, 2009 | By | Reply More

Geoffrey Miller has just published a new book, Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior.  I haven’t read it yet, but I am now ordering it, based on Miller’s terrific prior work (see here, for example).

In the meantime, I did enjoy this NYT blog review of Spent, which includes this provocative question:

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.

If you’re looking for simplistic answers, you won’t get them from Miller.  I won’t spoil the answers he obtained or his analysis of those answers, but you’ll find them here.


I found this one item refreshingly honest.  Refreshingly, because I know a lot of parents, I see their faces, I hear their complaints (and their exhultations).   I know that it’s PC to say that having children is a continuous wonderful joy and that all parents are glad they did had children.   Miller’s research suggests that the answer is not this simple:

[Here’s an answer that appears [much more on the ‘expensive’ than on the ‘happy’ lists [includes] Children, including child care, school fees, child support, fertility treatments. Costly, often disappointing, usually ungrateful. Yet, the whole point of life, from a Darwinian perspective. Parental instincts trump consumer pleasure-seeking.


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Category: advertising, American Culture, Consumerism, Economy, Evolution, Psychology Cognition, Sex

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.

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