The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Can you buy happiness?

Jotul wood stoveModern marketing has convinced us that if we just had the right possessions, we would be happy.  The concept has even spawned "retail therapy", the idea that if you feel down, a good shopping trip will perk you right up.

In stark contrast, science suggests that buying more things makes us less able to appreciate life's small pleasures.  I've also noticed that any emotional boost I might receive from a purchase dulls quickly as I get used to my acquisition and the fun toy fades into the background.  (Often, the purchase glow dies even faster as I succumb to buyer's remorse.)

But sometimes, you really can buy happiness.  A full year after installing our ultra-efficient, tiny wood stove, I still smile every time I glance in her direction.  Basking in her warmth is one of my favorite cold weather activities, and perhaps that explains the longevity of my pleasure at the purchase.  Even though it seemed like we were buying a hunk of iron, we were really paying for a lifetime of experiences, and experiences are the one type of purchase that scientists report stand the test of time.

Our chicken waterer makes it easy and fun to keep a backyard flock.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Love it! I think the stove represents a sound decision in long-term security as much as an experience, and that might contribute to some of the joy factor. Things that increase the likelihood of life-giving warmth in times of cold will feel good at the most primal level. I think maybe each experience you have with the stove reminds / reinforces what a good investment in long-term warmth that it was/is.
Comment by J Sat Nov 26 11:06:53 2011
I suspect you're right that all of those factors play into my continued enthusiasm with the "princess." Seems like there should be a way to learn from which purchases make us happy and which ones don't and develop some sort of checklist to help us with future decisions.
Comment by anna Sat Nov 26 17:53:27 2011
There was a time not so long ago when most people didn't have "extra money" and consummerism was not possible as it is today. O. Henry's classic "The Gift of the Magi" reiminds us how times were and how significant a special purchase could be before we developed this throw-away materialism we have now.
Comment by doc Sat Nov 26 18:29:14 2011
I was reading an interesting analysis of planned obsolescence the other day. It pointed out that, much as we say we hate it, consumers clearly approve of planned obsolescence since we keep choosing the cheap option that's going to break in a year instead of the more expensive option that will last our whole lives. The authors of the piece argued that planned obsolescence has made consumer goods so cheap that we can have a lot more stuff --- that when things were made to last, everything would be a significant purchase, like you mentioned in your comment. I'm not really sure where I'm going with this comment except maybe...if we are more careful to buy only a few really special things, we won't be able to afford all of the junk we don't approve of anyway?
Comment by anna Sun Nov 27 10:03:57 2011

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