Fascinating article in Daedalus by economics professor Robert Frank. Here is the thesis:
Considerable evidence suggests that if we use an increase in our incomes, as many of us do, simply to buy bigger houses and more expensive cars, then we do not end up any happier than before. But if we use an increase in our incomes to buy more of certain inconspicuous goods–such as freedom from a long commute or a stressful job–then the evidence paints a very different picture. The less we spend on conspicuous consumption goods, the better we can afford to alleviate congestion; and the more time we can devote to family and friends, to exercise, sleep, travel, and other restorative activities. On the best available evidence, reallocating our time and money in these and similar ways would result in healthier, longer– and happier–lives.
I’ve never thought about it in precisely this way, but it rings true. The things that make us happy have to do with our lifestyles, our actions — where we work, how we get there, who we associate with. This stuff can be substantially affected by spending money, but it can’t be magically made right by simply buying things.
Anyway, the article is well worth reading — and I may check out one of Frank’s many books.