Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Own Slice of Bliss

I came across a New York Times article last week about consumer happiness.  Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote about the current economic recession and how it moved some people to change their approach to purchasing goods.   People are buying less, but it is ingrained in our culture to find happiness through possessions.  Does this mean we are less content?  Is there a alternative way to locate elation?

One of my simple pleasures is finding a new butterfly in the backyard, a variegated fritillary.
In Rosenbloom's article, she writes about a couple of people that have opted out of the shopping treadmill.  One woman gave up her job as a project manager to become a freelance writer.  She and her husband pared their belongings down to 100 items and now live in a 400 sq. foot apartment.  Another person, a filmmaker downsized from a posh home in San Francisco to a trailer park in Malibu.  He wanted to be closer to the surf action.  Both groups of people have shed materialism to find a happier life.

I started questioning how this could fit in my own circumstances.  Before I pondered this, I wanted to learn more about happiness.  If you look in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, happiness is defined as a state of well-being and contentment.   Likewise,  Wikipedia lists happiness as a state of mind that has origins in biology, physiology, religion and/or philosophy.  It seems that contentment is manifested in many different ways.

Now I will tell you I started reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin earlier in the year.  I confess I didn't finish the book.  It wasn't a quick read.  I do intend to go back and complete it.  From what I did read, Rubin had some interesting suggestions for well-being like getting to sleep earlier and exercising more frequently.  I am doing those things already, but I sometimes struggle with finding happiness.  In spite of that, I give her a lot of credit with using different approaches to locate her bliss.  Rubin's book shows us that happiness is not elusive, we just need to track it down.

I continued further with my investigation of happiness and found a few more tidbits.  In Psychology Today, Carlin Flora writes about The Pursuit of Happiness which is a discourse about the latest trend in popular psychology.  Why are Americans still struggling with finding bliss?  Flora states that some of us are stuck in a self-indulgent pattern of acquiring the latest gadgets or securing social upgrades.  These are only quick fixes with no lasting happiness.  However, a person can seek true contentment by detaching from the "hedonistic treadmill" and look for pursuits that are lively and not instantly boring.

What does this mean?  For myself, going back to school has been pleasurable.  I have found it to be full of challenges, forcing me to meet new people and helping me a learn new skills.   Likewise, another source of happiness has been home improvement projects.  I moved my vegetable gardens this spring and have been reaping the rewards of having daily fresh tomatoes this summer.  In addition, I recently stained our backyard deck.  It was four days of patient, sweaty labor but now I can watch butterflies to my heart's content on our newly restored deck.

Getting back to the New York Times article, Rosenbloom spoke with a number of psychology experts and found happiness to be firmly rooted in experiences and not material goods.  One expert, Dr. Diener suggested that Americans need to strive against "hedonic adaptation."  The excitement over a new purchase quickly declines in order to maintain homeostasis.  This means that money is better spent on a trip to the beach than acquiring a new car.

I have to agree with Dr. Diener.  Tim and I had a lovely time at the Medina County Fair a couple of weeks ago.  We are still talking about our encounter with all the fascinating farm animals and produce at the fair.  Having said that, you can ask me what I purchased recently and I struggle to remember.  Maybe  I got a book and some skin cream.  Whoop-de-do.  It just goes to show that I have an easier time remembering what I did than what I bought.

Needless to say, I learned a lot about consumer happiness in a short week.  I can be contented with less belongings and more pursuits.  It doesn't mean I will stop spending money.  It just means I will be more selective in what I do with my money.  I wonder how many people have figured that out.  Hopefully you are one of the lucky few who know the rewards with experiences rather than owning more stuff.  Oh well, live and learn.  And don't worry, be happy!

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