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Books about happiness, talk of our happiness quotient and level and how to be happy is all the rage these days. And what, with the film adaptation of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ coming out on Friday, featuring Elizabeth Gilbert’s fantasy road to happiness via divorce plus Italy, India, and Indonesia (basically: she lives every woman’s private fantasy for real), we will soon be swooning over her newfound life and peace and all that stuff, too. (Gilbert must be happy right? In the film version of her journey, she is played by Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.)
But this weekend, the New York Times Business section of all places, had their own investigation into happiness via consumerism–or the absence of consumerism, that is, in “But Will It Make You Happy?”. They featured couples and individuals who have found happiness–or at least a greater amount of it–via giving away their things (almost all of them), and stopping buying practically altogether. Apparently, acquiring things is not the key to happiness:
“A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people. Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. . . .Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. 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.”
And by now? She barely owns even 100 things: the article claims that Strobel is down to three pairs of shoes and only four plates. But happiness is hers to claim as a result.
But if you can’t stop spending and consuming–apparently it’s better to spend money on an experience than on, say, a dress:
“Scholars and researchers haven’t determined whether Armani will put a bigger smile on your face than Dolce & Gabbana. But they have found that our types of purchases, their size and frequency, and even the timing of the spending all affect long-term happiness. One major finding is that spending money for an experience — concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in Monaco — produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff.”
That certainly supports the Elizabeth Gilbert method–to eat your way through Italy, pray your way through India, and love your way through Indonesia. I think I’ll take that path over the Barneys one on most days. Though, not all of them!

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