When Money Buys Happiness

John Tierney in The New York Times:

Maybe consumers – especially the ones reading this blog – aren’t so irrational after all. In my Findings column, I describe how the patrons of a restaurant in Israel turned out to be surprisingly immune to the experimental manipulations of behavioral economists. And now there’s more evidence of sensible shopping behavior from an informal (and unscientific) survey of Lab readers. It was conducted in connection with an earlier column about Geoffrey Miller’s new book, “Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior.” Dr. Miller issued an open invitation to readers to try this exercise:

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.

More than 200 readers responded. Dr. Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, has read the answers carefully and says he’s impressed with Lab readers’ “good insights, self-revelations and vigorous debate.” He has picked out some of the distinctive answers and identified five overall trends. Here’s Dr. Miller’s analysis, starting with some of the most notable expenditures by Lab readers:

On the “most expensive” lists, the most distinctive items were:

• “Drugs”
• “Psychotherapy”
• “A week at a mental hospital”
• “Wine cellar filled, then emptied. Repeat.”

On the “happiness” lists, the most distinctive items were:

• Thrift store shopping
• Eyeglasses
• Liposuction
• Pilot’s license
• Social club dues, memberships
• Beach house rentals
• Yoga retreat
• Adoption of child
• $25 plain gold wedding band that lasted through a 46-year marriage
• Coffeemaker with auto settings for waking up to fresh coffee
• “Shack in the woods”
• “Studio apartment in Paris”
• “Upgrade to business class on international flights”
• “Girlfriend”
• “Weekend delivery of NY Times”
• “Tire swing”
• “Spleefs” (marijuana)
• “Ant colony”

More here.

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