December 2, 2009

Are you happier?

I read this article from Time magazine a couple of weeks ago called "The Happiness Paradox: Why Are Americans So Cheery?" Are we cheery? Is it possible that there really is a silver lining in this recession?

The author suggests that maybe the silver lining is in the downsizing, especially the downsizing of expectations. People had gotten exhausted with keeping up with the Joneses, and they're a little relieved that the era of excess is over.

I like the last paragraph: "Whatever you make of the psychology of happiness, we know something of its physics. It rises as it ricochets off other people, returning to us stronger by virtue of being released. It gets bigger when we don't care if it gets smaller; we stopped buying all the stuff we didn't need that was supposed to make us happier, and we seem to be happier for it. And who would have expected that?"

Who indeed? I won't go so far as to say that I'm happy about the recession or the global condition or the fact that so many people I know are out of work. But I am happy lately, and I think it has a lot to do with The Compact, and with blogging about it. Becoming a non-consumer has definitely been liberating. I've got more money, more time for things I care about, and I feel more in control. It's a little bit like when I quit smoking cigarettes. One of the things I had come to hate was feeling like someone else (the cigarette companies and their advertisements) had control over my behavior. I didn't want anyone else to have that power. To the best of my ability, I want to make my own decisions. And I feel more connected, part of a simple living/frugal/non-consumer community.

So, are you happier? Do you think being more or less happy is related to your economic situation or your status as a consumer? Do you identify yourself as a non-consumer, a conscious consumer, or something else? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section. Read the entire article here.


Lisa said...

I consider myself to be a mixture of non consumer and conscious consumer. Except for personal care items and food, nearly all of my belongings are second-hand or homemade. When I shop for food and the like, I try to get the best bang for my buck. I've lived this way for quite a few years and am content. My personal challenge has never been to keep up with the Jones'. It has been to learn how to become more self-sufficient so that I can live well with less. Since the recession hit, I've often felt sorry for the people who've lost jobs and homes, etc. I'm sure that once having had big incomes, they're at a loss when it comes to dealing with little or no income. I'm sure that some people are relieved by not feeling a need to compete but also sure that others are stressed to their limit because of not knowing how to manage with less.

This Thrifted Life said...

I definitely agree that lowering expectations and forgetting about the Joneses is a key to our happiness. And when we put away the uncomfortable clothes, the expensive toys, and the manic shopping trips that are *supposed* to make us happy, room in our life opens up for what *truly* makes us happy, and we finally have the time to discover what exactly that is.

Cate said...

I'm SO much happier! Like Lisa, I consider myself to fall somewhere in between nonconsumer and conscious consumer...I put a lot of thought into the purchases I make, or don't make them at all. I think blogging about my frugality is definitely helping me to be happier with my choices, too. It's nice to know that there's a whole community of likeminded people who don't feel the need to get more, more, more. I'm much less materialistic than I used to be, and that gives me more time to spend with my family.

Vegan Good Life said...

I used to use words like "treat myself" and "splurge" to justify buying an expensive clothing item, and feel so much more empowered since I've started consuming less and dedicated myself to shopping thrift as much as possible. Money is power in our society, and everytime we spend it foolishly, we are taking away our security, our savings for the future, and our choices. Missing from our economic debate is can we really substain an economic engine based on personal consumption, which makes up 70 percent of the GDP? I don't think consumers, or our planet, can handle it.

Betsy Talbot said...

Definitely happier! We started our downsizing project just before everything in the economy went to hell, so I guess for us it has been easier because it was voluntary. And since all our friends were cutting back as well (out of necessity or out of caution), we've all bonded over finding out how to be together and support each other in different ways than we used to. I feel closer to the people in my life now than I did 2 years ago.

I think we can all get distracted from happiness or sadness by shiny, sparkly things - whether that is a new outfit or a new house - but eventually you run out of money or things to buy and have to face facts. We've just had a collective realization of this, and whether we're happy or sad we now have the space to notice it (and do something about it if we want).

While I'm not happy about the economy either, the silver lining is that people are learning that possessions have a cost of ownership, and basing your happiness on that is a risky business.

Jo said...

I am happier having fewer possessions, less income and more time. Although as I am legally blind my situation is different to most other consumers. In my case I think what the eyes can't see the mind doesn't desire.

Kate said...

I'm happier for sure. I'm saving more, working less and having fun. I love being a non-consumer!

When the economy improves, my wages will probably increase, but my lifestyle will stay the same.

Ellen said...

Your blog needs a "like" button, like facebook. Great column!