How To Find Happiness in Poverty and Thrift


Via Mickey Kaus, here's an interesting paragraph buried in a Wall Street Journal story about Design Within Reach:

Just getting people into stores can be difficult at a time when self-indulgent shopping has lost its allure, says Jim Taylor, vice-chairman of Harrison Group, a market research firm. Dr. Taylor has just completed a consumer study for American Express Publishing that suggests the wealthy no longer really enjoy shopping. What's more, their new, less-materialistic lifestyles are "a lot of fun," he says. "Our happiness scales are up this year for the first time in years."

Mickey asks a lot of questions about this: "Is that really true? If so, a big deal, no?  ... And why? Perspective? Lower status anxiety?  Lower Iraq anxiety? Obama? The power of schadenfreude?" So I spent the requisite 45 seconds digging up the study in question (pdf), and here's what it says about why we're happier spending less: 

smiley face wikimedia.pngLess than half of the individuals in the survey (46%) feel extremely/very optimistic about their future. Even fewer (42%) feel extremely/very optimistic about their child's future. However, more than half (66%) say they are "very happy." Since the study's inception in 2007, this is the first time results have revealed a clear upturn in American happiness. The decline in optimism appears to have bottomed. The possibility for an upturn in optimism certainly exists.
More than three-quarters of Americans (76%) report taking pride in their newfound shopping habits. Additionally, 65% now describe themselves as "smarter" shoppers.
"Beginning last Christmas, shoppers - especially women - began to take pleasure in saying no to unexamined consumption. They began to take pride in their ability to resist the urge to buy and started to examine why they needed a new dress, a new fixture, anything really. And then, they derived pride - self-esteem - from their ability to make careful, reasoned purchase decisions," said Dr. Taylor.
David adds: "This new resourcefulness means, however, that as the recession ebbs, merchants cannot expect a return to the sort of 'retail gluttony' that has characterized the last 10 years. Instead, consumers will continue to apply their newfound skills in comparative pricing, needs identification, budget-based and values-based shopping. Brands will have to get in line with the spirit of this 'rational exuberance': the tendency to take pleasure in saying 'no.'"

This strikes me as interesting and plausible, but it also puts in context that line about how "Our happiness scales are up this year for the first time in years." The study has been around since 2007!

That somewhat frightening smiley face is from Wikimedia Commons

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
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