Monday, August 9, 2010

Does living simply make you happy?

This is a good article that weaves the personal story of one woman into a report on positive psychology.

It also has a nice little gem that will serve as quote of the day:
Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number. . . . She owns four plates, three pairs of shoes and two pots.
What is it with women and shoes?

I do have a few complaints about the article.

First, they oversell some of the correlations from the happiness research. Happiness economics is a new field and a lot of the survey data isn't that great. With one exception (the German Socio-Economic Panel)  the data is cross-sectional, meaning you don't get to see what happens to the same people over time, just how different people in two groups (married, unmarried) feel. Personally, though, I tend to trust the cross-section evidence as primarily unbiased.

Second, I think the story of the "hero," Ms. Strobel, is bit misleading. The article opens with a story about how she simplified her life and what the research shows is that that probably won't make her unhappy. But the article might leave you with a sense that downsizing and simplifying your life will make you happier. There isn't any research that shows that. What made Ms. Strobel happier is eliminating her commute (she works from home), changing her mindset to focus more on family and less on status symbols, and by spending the money she does have on things that she enjoys.

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