You Can Buy Happiness (If You Stop Buying Stuff)

Pursue happiness through simplicity and radically change your life for the better — downsizing your life by choice can be a practical way to find big fulfillment in small living.


| November 2012


Tammy Strobel lives with her husband in 128 square feet. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. After years of living with high stress and high debts, the pair changed their attitude toward the stuff in their lives, deciding to dramatically cut the clutter. Strobel blogged about the lifestyle changes and found a huge, receptive audience. You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too (New World Library, 2012) is her “biographical manifesto,” a combination of her story and advice on how to join the simplicity movement.   

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The metal hangers made a clicking noise as I browsed through the racks of suits. I was with my friend Lisa, and we were out shopping again on our lunch break. I didn’t have a lot of professional-looking clothes, and Lisa always looked stylish, so I enlisted her to help me revamp my wardrobe. Besides, shopping on our lunch break was the perfect opportunity to escape “campus.”

Campus was what corporate headquarters called our office. There were four huge buildings, and each unit held about four hundred people. The complex had no character and reminded me of a desert because the structures were so lifeless. On the surface it seemed like campus would be brimming with happy people. But that wasn’t the case. To escape the environment, Lisa and I would drive to the outlet mall for weekly shopping breaks.



The outlet mall wasn’t much better than campus. On the positive side, the mall walkways were lined with a little bit of shrubbery and bright flowers. Despite the bright flowers, the people at the outlet mall seemed to exude negative energy. Everyone was in a hurry. Especially during a sale — it was like being in the middle of an elephant stampede.

I was part of the herd, too, because I only had a limited amount of time to browse the racks. I had to be back in the cubicle forest by one o’clock at the latest. More often than not, I’d buy a cute blouse to go with my suit, and I’d always feel better afterward — at least temporarily. The high I got from my shopping trips didn’t last long. I was on what Sonja Lyubomirsky, in The How of Happiness, calls the “hedonic treadmill.” This isn’t the kind of treadmill that helps you get into shape. If you keep running on this treadmill, you’ll feel depleted and, more than likely, be saddled with a whole lot of debt and stress. For example, all the new outfits I bought at the outlet mall gave me momentary pleasure, but eventually I adapted to them and got bored with them. Essentially, I wasn’t getting a very good return on my investment. I always thought spending money on stuff would make me happy in the long run. However, I was wrong. Research on this topic tells a different story.














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