Thursday, July 15, 2010

Let's Get Small

Last month, I read a story on The Huffington Post that refuses to leave my mind. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, found that $60,000 per year results in happiness. Any amount of earnings above that result in the same level of happiness. "I've rarely seen lines so flat," he said with surprise at the steadiness of response. Sure, Kahneman noted that the level of satisfaction may be higher at $600,000 per annum than at one-tenth the amount, but, emotionally, people remain constant. Below $60K, life is worse ("lack of money certainly buys you misery"), and gets progressively suckier the further from the magic number one gets.

When we moved from suburban Chicago to Cooperstown, there were several motivations: getting kids into a smaller school, regaining huge chunks of my life by not commuting to the Loop, pulling back post-9/11 and spending time with the family before everyone went their separate ways. What I've learned these last seven years is that quality of life is so much more important than quantity of stuff. Seeking happiness through material things never leads to long term contentment. Believe me, I come from a long line of people who have been consistently crushed by the deep seated belief that the next car, boat, house, whatever, would be THE ONE, the thing that would cure their emotional ills. Never worked, never will.

That's not to say I don't have a healthy enjoyment of stuff. Luckily, my tastes are the same at 47 as they were at 17 - books, records, the occasional baseball card set. Sure, those are still "things" but they're pretty cheap and the joy they bring lasts a long time.

Kahneman's study got me thinking. The future is not going to be one of consumption, so the endless pursuit of dough is something of a dead end. Going smaller, getting less, searching for happiness that isn't money-centric, that's the course for me. It sounds great.

Now if I could only stop having to pay a monstrous amount of money on health care, I'd really be in good shape.

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