86 comments

What is Hedonic Adaptation and How Can it Turn You Into a Sucka?

In writing this blog for you, Mr. Money Mustache actually has three major goals:

  1. To make you rich so you can retire early.
  2. To make you happy so you can properly enjoy your early retirement.
  3. To save the whole Human Race from destroying its own home through environmental destruction.

All three of these goals are in perfect alignment, and they mix and mingle in different ways depending on which aspect of Mustachanism we are discussing at any given time. Today we’ll be focusing in on #2: What actually makes us happy.

Now, everybody knows that I like to promote a relatively frugal lifestyle. Critics of my approach have said things like this,

“You can’t take your money with you when you die, buddy. How’d you like to die tomorrow after scrimping and saving for your whole life, never having spent your money?”

“I happen to like driving around in a nice car. There’s no way I’m going to bike to work all week and work hard every day just so I can drive around in a $5,000 shitbox on the weekends” *

“I like to buy myself something nice a few times a year. What’s the harm as long as I’m staying within my budget?”

In fact, even the relatively frugal financial blogger I call Mortgage Free Mike once wrote this comment on an earlier MMM article:

“You have a really great.. and unique… attitude about money. I’m not sure if I can regularly deny myself purchases, but at the same time tell myself that it’s a win, but it’s worth a shot!”

All of these statements would have sounded perfectly rational to me when I was just a little younger. In fact, the one breakthrough that flipped my thinking on the matter was learning about the scientific studies that have been done on hedonic adaptation.

In less fancy terms, what this term means is that “no matter what happens to you in your life, you’ll very quickly get used to it”. Hedonic Adaptation is a feature built right into your Human DNA that allows you to function efficiently in a wide variety of environments, even very harsh ones.

A most striking example of this was a 1978 psychological study that evaluated the happiness levels of recent lottery winners, and recently injured paraplegics relative to the general population. As you’d expect, the lottery winners were pretty upbeat immediately after their win, and the paraplegics were pretty pissed off. But within just two months, both groups had returned back to the average level of happiness.

“That’s Impossible!” , I thought. “How could this be!?”

Well, it turns out that when a person jumps to a new level of material convenience, he loses the ability to enjoy the things he previously thought were pretty neat. A cold Bud Light was once a true delight after a work day for the lottery winner, but after the win he quits the job and takes up high-end scotch, poured by a personal butler. Both serve the same purpose, and the pleasure is about the same. Similarly, when moving down the hedonic scale, either voluntarily or involuntarily, we can learn to appreciate simpler things with just as much gusto as we would have appreciated more expensive things. I truly love the sound of the wheels of my bike slicing through the quiet wind on an open road, just as much as I enjoyed the whirring sound of the gear-driven camshafts and the rich tuned exhaust note of my old VFR800 motorcycle.

This happiness averaging also explains why we the people of the most materially abundant country in the world, the United States, where the gas is the cheapest and the cars are the fanciest and the houses are the biggest, are actually quite far below other less wealthy countries in the world when we evaluate our own happiness. Depending on the survey, you’ll see countries like Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Bhutan, Mexico, Cuba, and others kicking our ass, and the US rarely ranks above #17 on the list.

It is intuitively hard to believe these things at first, when you have been raised as a consumer. My cravings for the crisply carved seats and slickety smooth gearshift of a Mini Cooper S felt very real. Just as Mrs. Money Mustache’s cravings for the artistic perfection and self confidence boost offered by the latest names in athletic fashion felt real. In fact, the cravings ARE real, and the adrenaline rush of buying these new things is real as well. They really do make you feel happy – for a very short time.

The key for me is not denying the existence of the craving or the short term rush. It’s zooming out and reminding myself, “Dude, the scientists have already figured this out for you. You can buy the Cooper, and get a short term rush, or you can put that same energy and money into doing something that creates far more lasting happiness.”

And that’s the golden nugget for you. You only have a limited lifespan, and you’ve got a real chance to go get yourself some lasting happiness. Are you going to spend that time chasing the scientifically-proven-to-be-ineffective short adrenaline rushes that you get from buying yourself some more shit? Or would you prefer to actually experience Several Golden Decades of Deluxe Life that are so good you look back and laugh at them even when you are a Skeleton?

Luckily, the wise scientists and psychologists who came before us have already done the work, and we know, in a general sense, what is most likely to make a person happy. And when it comes down to a battle between my own emotion-biased intuition, and real scientific research, I’m going to side with the scientists every time, because I always bet on the side where the odds are in my favor.

In no particular order, the biggest factors influencing human happiness include meaningful work (with lots of autonomy, low stress, and low fear of losing your job), private life, community, health, freedom, and a philosophy of life.

Pretty simple isn’t it? And you will note that the Way of the Money Mustache addresses all of these areas.

Because work is such an important part of human happiness, as a Mustachian you will work as quickly as possible to take the money component out of it, so that you can have the option of deciding like a real Adult what kind of work you want to do each day. To achieve this, you will lower your expenses and put the incredibly high level of savings that result, directly to work for you. And in the process, you won’t suffer at all, because all you’re giving up is a little bit of the Hedonic Adaptation Crack Cocaine.

By gaining financial independence, you will naturally turn more to helping others, bonding with your own family and friends and community, and you’ll have the extra time and the reduced stress levels allowing you to take better care of your health. Freedom goes without saying – here in the rich world, the only widespread form of slavery is the economic type. Debt and an addiction to high consumption are a very real form of slavery, and gaining freedom from it is a genuine contributor to Real Happiness.

People who are already financially independent might now step in and say “Aha, but if I’ve already got the freedom and the health, then am I allowed to go out and buy myself a whole bunch of fancy shit?”.

This question becomes more complicated. I’ve pretty much been cured from the desire for a lifestyle any more luxurious than the one I already live. And I’m actually hoping to step it down gradually over time. The obvious reason to reject things like a fancier car or house is that they use up more of the planet’s natural resources that could be used to help someone else instead. On the other hand, buying more services and experiences in your own community might end up supporting younger and less wealthy people (students, actors, musicians, artists) which might do a bit of good to society and share your wealth. I like the idea of starting businesses that employ a wide variety of people and treat them unusually well. Or creating funding incentives for schools and students in such a way that they up their game significantly. It’s a tricky problem, deciding what is the most efficient use for extra money, but I’ll leave it to you to think it over when you get there.

So when you hear people who are still in the Sukka Consumer mindset, telling you that they don’t want to deprive themselves of the happiness afforded by buying things for themselves, even while they struggle with debt or unpleasant work, tell them to look into the science behind what they are saying. They’re actually like a dangerously unfit person saying they don’t want to deprive themselves of the pleasure of sitting on the couch all day and go out for a walk instead.

Science has proven they are both wrong. The sooner you can accept this convenient fact, the sooner you can become rich. And happy!

 

 * Actual closely paraphrased quote made somewhere online about an MMM article

  • rjack October 22, 2011, 7:15 am

    I’ve read about one-half of the Stoicism book you recommended and I too found the Hedonistic Adaption described in the book useful. I’ve found that forcing myself to have 2 week “evaluation period” before I buy new stuff that I often no longer need what I thought I needed.

    Reply
    • Garrick October 18, 2012, 10:49 am

      What is this book called?

      Reply
      • Joe July 16, 2013, 8:46 am

        “A Guide to the Good Life, The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy”. From MMM book review dated October 2, 2011

        Reply
  • BrunoB October 22, 2011, 8:02 am

    This is the reason I come back here every now and then. This blog is so much more than personal finance. It is a way of life in balance with your inner values. This is the future I would like our next generation to grow up in. It wasn’t much different two generations ago… I still have hope.

    Mustache all the things! Thank you MMM

    Reply
  • Kristi October 22, 2011, 8:05 am

    Thanks for this great article. I will be revisiting this one from time to time when I need a little perspective. :) Keep up the great work.

    Reply
  • bigato October 22, 2011, 9:06 am

    What a piece of wisdom you’ve got here.
    I would add that the contrast between not having and having is what gives us pleasure.
    For example, the best drink you can have is a simple cup of fresh water after you are really thirsty.
    The best food is the most simple one, tasted when we are really hungry.
    Any piece of plain wood can be a king’s bed for the one that is really tired.

    Hard work helps to get thirsty, hungry and tired, and that is the reason it is one of the best sources of happiness.
    The feeling of acomplishment that comes when you see the result of your work materialized is also a great source of joy. That’s also why hand labor can make one feel so good: you see the useful outcome of your work in front of you.

    Reply
    • Tom Armstrong October 23, 2011, 1:20 pm

      Well put! I’ve HAD that most wonderful drink of water.

      Reply
  • Valerie October 22, 2011, 9:08 am

    An insatiable desire to buy more shit is definitely our downfall.

    I’m not financially independent yet, but being entirely debt-free brings me a lot more happiness than buying crap on credit ever did! Don’t get me wrong. I still get cravings for luxurious and desirable crap, but if I simply view these purchases in terms how much longer they’ll force me to work before I can retire, it’s a lot easier to dismiss them outright.

    And by ‘retire’, my goal is to be able to work very part-time doing something I truly enjoy, and using the rest of my free time doing things I love, and volunteering. The less ‘fancy shit’ I buy, the sooner I get there!

    So, I raise a cold Bud Light to you Mr MM on another excellent post!
    Cheers!

    Reply
  • The Peter October 22, 2011, 9:13 am

    Wait, is this really news to people? I thought it was pretty obvious that happiness was relative. Duh?

    Reply
    • MMM October 22, 2011, 11:44 am

      Hopefully you’re joking.. because while this is old information, it’s still THE BIGGEST SECRET IN THE RICH WORLD!!! .. If this old-school wisdom could fight its way to the top of public consciousness, above the current dominant consumer mindset, it would completely change everything. I’m talking a change on the level of one of those Naturalist Utopia planets that they occasionally visited on Star Trek.

      Reply
      • Kathy P. October 22, 2011, 2:23 pm

        It would pretty much eliminate the need to Occupy Wall St. too. It’s our endless consumption of stupid crap that not only feeds the corporate/political machine but is killing the planet as well.

        Much better to Occupy the Mustache I think.

        Reply
      • Daniel Conway April 14, 2014, 4:59 pm

        Planet Risa…but we have Santa Barbara.

        Reply
  • Nuno André October 22, 2011, 10:09 am

    Great post, may I recommend this book?
    http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/

    Reply
  • Chris October 22, 2011, 10:24 am

    Great article MMM. I’ll have to re-read that one again this evening to let it soak in some more. I suspect what most people (including myself at one time) don’t see in frugality and being debt free is that it actually does “free you.” I find that being debt free and not having an expensive vehicle and lots of expensive gadgets actually makes me happier in the end, because, a) my life is simpler and b) my stuff doesn’t “own” me. I couldn’t appreciate thees two facts, however, until I’d lived the other way and found out it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be! Being debt free and watching my money grow has become a sport in itself. I get more satisfaction out of watching my money grow than I do spending it on just about anything these days. However, its all in a philosophy and until that philosophy is adopted, it doesn’t seem to compute with most people. I’m amazed how Thoreau figured these principles out at such a young age and with little “life experience.”

    BTW-Completed trip 1 of 5 to the grocery store on my bike yesterday. Loaded all my groceries into my backpack at the checkout and it felt strange and good at all the same time. Looking forward to more of those!

    Reply
    • MMM October 22, 2011, 11:46 am

      Awesome Chris! I like your 5-trip test idea too.

      Reply
  • Mike October 22, 2011, 10:42 am

    Love, love, love the MMM blog. I’ve been gradually migrating towards this sort of lifestyle / mindset for a while now, and this site just gives me more motivation to accelerate the process. What I’ve found interesting is that once you overcome the hedonistic adaptation problem, your feelings towards purchases are almost the exact opposite of those experienced by someone who has not overcome it. In other words, before you kick the habit, not buying something you really want causes you real pain. Afterwards, the mere idea of buying something that you know will only cause a few days or weeks worth of satisfaction causes you even more pain!

    I’d love to know how you would approach a situation where you have 2 loans that you would like to pay off, one of which is a student loan and one is a mortgage. Which would you go after first, or would you try to hit both at the same time?

    On the meaningful work part of human happiness, I think you would really dig this: http://calnewport.com/blog/2010/01/23/beyond-passion-the-science-of-loving-what-you-do/

    Reply
    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 22, 2011, 11:03 am

      He’s going to say “Make the minimum payments on both debts so as to avoid penalties. All extra money then goes to the debt with the higher interest rate.”
      This isn’t the place where they tell you to do the smaller debt first to give yourself an endorphin rush when it’s gone. This is the place where the grown-ups with Mustaches are.

      Reply
      • MMM October 22, 2011, 11:46 am

        Yup, Frugal Toque is right as usual :-)

        Reply
        • Weston October 25, 2011, 9:00 am

          Wouldn’t it depend on a couple of factors that are not addressed in Mike’s question?

          To me it would very much matter

          1. Is the home upside down or is there equity?

          2. Is the home located in a recourse or non recourse state?

          3. How secure is Mike’s income and how confident is he that he will be able to pay off both debts?

          4. How much is the difference in interest being paid?

          I have found that if all else fails there are dozens of options to fight or avoid Mortgage foreclosure.

          But if you don’t pay your student loans they will garnish your wages so quickly and easily your head will spin.

          Reply
          • Three Wolf Moon December 7, 2013, 1:40 pm

            Also, mortgage interest is tax-deductible where student loan interest is not. So, if the rates are at all close to each other and you have enough deductions on schedule A to itemize, it may make sense to pay off the student loans first

            Reply
  • Mr. Frugal Toque October 22, 2011, 10:59 am

    A refreshing departure from the consumerish attitude of every other place I visit on the Internet these days.
    This goes hand in hand with your admonitions against television. Now that over-the-air TV went Hi-def digital – and I didn’t – I’m almost completely unaware of the Products that are “missing” from my life. People mention Products at work, but they’re just Names of things – entirely disconnected from the sales pitches that excited my colleagues so much.
    It’s kind of like when I stopped going to church when I was younger. Suddenly, certain things just stop bothering me.

    I’m pretty sure that this was the overarching theme of the Wizard of Oz.

    Reply
    • Tom Armstrong October 23, 2011, 1:03 pm

      Nice touch at the end!

      I quit attending church as a kid as well. I’ve been happier ever since. Something about a system that tells me to be afraid of X AND tells me how to get around X when X is so clearly a creation of that system instead of a separate phenomenon…

      I quit watching television over twenty-five years ago, due at the time to my own financial situation–I couldn’t afford to buy one. I got used to the luxury of a public library that was within cycling distance, and never looked back. I have a skeptical outlook on most advertising as a result–your bit about “Products” is refreshingly similar to my own experience.

      Anyway, being afraid of not having all the toys is not for me. I have no interest (pardon the pun) in being in debt up to my upper follicles so that I can have the toys.

      Good for you.

      Reply
    • Thomas Varney March 27, 2014, 6:56 pm

      It feels both rude and awesome to be reaching 2.5 years into the past but can you explain how this could be a theme of The Wizard of Oz? I’m genuinely curious.

      Reply
      • slugline June 1, 2014, 3:28 pm

        Reaching a few months into the past: Next time you watch the movie, notice how the Wizard doesn’t really take Dorothy home, give the Lion courage, the Scarecrow a brain, or the Tin Man a heart. But all their quests are satisfied in the end anyway.

        Reply
        • Joel June 23, 2014, 1:16 pm

          I think the command from the Wizard says it all: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

          Reply
  • Shane@DitchingGrains.BlogSpot.com October 22, 2011, 11:42 am

    I had just been thinking of this topic the other night but couldn’t recall it’s name! I actually realized a couple years back that my biggest drive to buy new and great things was not only a social situation (peer pressure for example) but an inner emotional thing as well. Well within the first month of not buying anything for myself I realized it was all just for that tiny adrenaline rush you get when you get the final recipt after clicking buy now or walking out the doors of a store bags in hand. Now I realize it was in an attempt to feel what I truly wanted and would really make me happy, financial freedom.
    Thanks MMM.

    Reply
  • megan October 22, 2011, 12:08 pm

    i like this article, and am really glad you mention spending more (once you’re far enough ahead to do so) on better stuff.

    because, to me, an even bigger problem than hedonic adaptation is the fact that we are buying such a high quantity of stuff with very low quality. so then we don’t value it, or it needs to be repaired or replaced more often, or we just end up never using or wearing it because it’s shittily made.

    it’s a GOOD thing if people spend a little more on well-made things that exactly fit their needs. maybe it’s from a local artisan, or someone you find online, or maybe you use resources from books or websites to make it yourself, spending more time/ money… for instance, it costs a lot more to knit a wool sweater than buy one… but that is all OK to me. the issue is the cheapy plastic dollar store crap that cost nothing, is super easy to throw away, and ends up in the pacific ocean. argh terrifying!!!

    so how bout let’s all get rich and produce and sell and buy the very best, smartest, most elegantly designd and beautifully constructed products that perfectly meet people’s needs, made in the cleanest greenest ways!

    Reply
    • megan October 22, 2011, 12:14 pm

      bruce sterling says this much better than me in his last viridian note … i’ll paste a small excerpt below

      http://www.viridiandesign.org

      It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.

      Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It’s melting the North Pole. So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

      The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most. It is “where it is at,” and it is “what is going on.”

      It takes a while to get this through your head, because it’s the opposite of the legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get. For instance, you cannot possibly spend too much money on a bed – (assuming you have a regular bed, which in point of fact I do not). You’re spending a third of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might be sagging, ugly, groaning and infested with dust mites, because you are used to that situation and cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious notice. See it. Replace it.

      Reply
      • Tom Armstrong October 23, 2011, 1:05 pm

        My grandmother often told us to “put your best money in your everyday shoes.” I’ve always felt that she was getting at this very concept with that adage.

        Reply
      • Di January 2, 2013, 8:30 am

        I was just thinking about the same thing Megan!

        I think I have a naturally mustachian approach to life, BUT I am often weak and end up consuming too much stuff. It gets easier as I get older and my mustache (both physical and metaphorical :-) ) grows, but I still have a long way to go.

        TV is a terrible one. Luckily because I live in the UK it is at least free, but what a waste of life most of that stuff is. Big goal for this year is to watch LESS and DO MORE!!

        But there are certain types of consumption that bring me a pleasure that doesn’t dull for me even now I am financially more comfortable and get to enjoy them more often. A ride in a London black cab still gives me a thrill like it did when I was a kid and it was a rare rare treat. Or drinking out of the lovely wine glasses my Dad gave me a few years ago gives me real pleasure every single time time! So can putting on my favourite sweater dress.

        In a way I think this is actually quite a good test of whether a purchase is OK or whether to put the wallet away and step away from the till. For example, I like clothes, and used to buy a lot of clothes in sales: but now I avoid sales because they just tempt me to buy things I will never enjoy enough to wear regularly. Only today I nearly bought a t-shirt that was £4 because it was so cheap and perfectly nice: but I didn’t, because I know that once I get it home it will no longer be a bargain £4 t-shirt. It will just be one of the several t-shirts in my drawer that I don’t like enough to wear very often unless I am WAY behind with my laundry. It’s so easy to spend £2 here, £10 there, with no real gain in happiness or satisfaction, with the only winner being the charity shop/thrift store. The same is true of an hour spent sitting in front of a pointless TV show or the last half hour of a film I have seen before (but without even the tiniest benefit to anybody).

        So my big resolution this year is to be more mindful in all areas of my consumption and spend my time and money only on things that really bring pleasure to somebody (hopefully including me!)

        Reply
  • jd October 22, 2011, 12:23 pm

    What I’ve found interesting as I’ve moved away from the consumer mindset is that the adrenaline rush I used to get when buying something new has been replaced with an adrenaline rush (maybe a bigger one) when I sell or give away something I no longer use or need. It’s a combination of getting some work done (decluttering) and seeing someone get some use out of my old stuff.

    Reply
  • AlexK October 22, 2011, 1:08 pm

    I am still addicted to the rush of buying something, however I have found I get the same rush when I buy something as an investment as I do when I buy something which depreciates. For example I get giddy when I first take possession of a new rental property to fix up. Or a new stock that I don’t already own, checking how it’s performing every day with excitement.

    My mind was opened up to the idea of cheap happiness when I visited Thailand and saw how happy these people were who owned almost nothing and lived in shacks.

    I do think some component of happiness has to do with how well your peers are living. For example if everyone you know lives in a mud hut, you will be happy if you also have a mud hut. But if your neighbors live in brick houses with air conditioning, you will feel unhappy with the hut.

    Reply
  • Shawn October 22, 2011, 3:48 pm

    MMM, you are on a roll! The Safety Margin post was stunning. Your words on Hedonic Adaptation are……well…. really, really good. I want to print this one off and post it on the fridge…..Or as a pre screen that must be viewed before logging in to Amazon.

    We are reformed(ing) hearty consumerists within the last year or so. We know what should be doing but have a “weak” moment from time to time and a dumb spending urge will creep in. We have obliterated impulse purchases but as late as this weekend were pondering something we really “needed.” Know that your words read by me today have obliterated that “need”! People I associate with have noticed my changes and if they end up engaging me in thoughtful conversation about ERE I try to leave them with this statement. “The only thing worth spending your money on is your freedom” Thank you for helping me reinforce my own words today!

    Reply
  • Thaed October 22, 2011, 4:27 pm

    A few months ago, I bought a 2005 Mustang Convertible GT at auction with 44k miles. God, I love that car! Every morning I smile when I see it in the garage. I smile when I drive it too which is only on weekends because I have a company car too.

    Reply
    • Executioner October 22, 2011, 8:59 pm

      A few years ago, my wife and I sold our second car. Man, do I love having only one car now. Every time I ride my bicycle to work, I smile when I think of our only car parked in our garage, not being driven, not burning up money, not polluting the air. I smile when I don’t have to drive the car on weekends either because I can think of about 1,000,000 things which are more interesting than driving around in a car.

      Reply
      • MMM October 22, 2011, 10:28 pm

        MOST MUSTACHIAN COMMENT AWARD FOR THIS HILARIOUS RESPONSE!!! :-). Nicely executed, Executioner.

        Reply
      • Tom Armstrong October 23, 2011, 1:08 pm

        I agree. It’s WONDERFUL to not have to drive. My wife’s car died in April of 2010, and we have yet to replace it. We just don’t need a second car. I get to work by bike ninety-something percent of the time, and on the few times I need the car AND she needs a car to get to work, I can drop her off on my way.

        Like MMM, I laughed pretty hard when I read your post. GREAT comeback!

        Reply
  • Kevin Meyers October 22, 2011, 6:17 pm

    This is the best article you’ve ever written. Instapapered, favorites, saved. If I had a place to hang it on the wall, I would. Well done.

    Reply
    • MMM October 22, 2011, 10:34 pm

      Wow, thanks a lot Kevin!

      Just like Gerard liking the term “enlightened hedo-minimalism”, or the commuting article that belatedly got a bunch of views and 2000 facebook likes, I can never tell what will be a hit.. So I’ll just continue typing randomly and see what happens. Thanks again. :-)

      Reply
  • Adam Godet October 22, 2011, 9:11 pm

    Yep. Consumerist economy works by convincing people they need to hate their job; they then seek pleasure by buying shit, and then have to go hit the sweet nectar of consumer crack every paycheck to keep the high going.

    Alternatively, even the wealthy tap into this Hedonistic adaptation…keeping up with the Jones or, Madoffs, or Trumps…competitive consumerism…biggest boat wins!

    I get the high by watching the savings account increase every paycheck…and think about the clock running out on how much longer I have to clock in every day.

    Reply
  • Brave New Life October 23, 2011, 9:27 am

    I’ve studied Hedonic Adaptation quite a bit. I found a study that I like to reference on occasion:

    http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs/articles/folder_published/article_base_122/files/RisingHappinessPPS.pdf

    You should read it if you have a spare hour sometime. It shows that there is one factor that has proven to overcome the adaptation: the feeling of freedom. It mostly discusses personal freedom, but I think it can also come from financial freedom and time-freedom as well. Which really just proves your point.

    I’ve started a post on this study and how it works on a micro level, but I’m struggling to get it more coherent. Hopefully sometime this year…

    Reply
  • Tom Armstrong October 23, 2011, 1:12 pm

    How is “sukka” pronounced? It reads like a homonym of one pronunciation of “sucker.” If that is, indeed, the case, it becomes a rather funny play on words.

    Reply
    • MMM October 23, 2011, 1:27 pm

      Yeah, you’ve got it right. Just watch a video of Mr. T during the A-team years, and you’ll know how to pronounce it. As in, “That’s enough from YOU, SUKKA!”

      Reply
  • Bakari Kafele October 23, 2011, 8:52 pm

    You sort of touch on it in the last paragraph, but some form of charity / helping others is missing from your list. One of the things scientists have found is that spending $5 on a gift for someone else actually creates more happiness – even short term – than buying something for one’s self, and of course it creates the feeling of “meaningfulness” which is more lasting.

    Also, you have to be careful with the term “freedom” – a lot of people equate “freedom” with “choices” and studies have also shown consistently that more choices make people LESS happy (assuming they have at least one good choice), as they forever second-guess themselves that maybe the other grass was greener all along. And for some reason, even when one choice is clearly better from a rational standpoint, in some circumstances people consistently choose “wrong”, causing themselves to be less happy.

    Which I suppose ties in directly with “emotion-biased intuition” VS “real scientific research” – the one you accept as more likely to be correct makes you a bit of a freak, at least in the America I know!

    Any time someone claims I am missing out on some supposedly wonderful thing, I usually go straight to the crack/heroine/meth analogy – I have no doubt that those things feel wonderful too, but its really not worth the costs too me, and honestly, I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

    Reply
    • Logic January 7, 2012, 2:55 am

      Thanks for clearing that up. At first I thought you meant “sukkah” as in the hut where you live during the 8 days of Sukkot.

      Reply
  • Dancedancekj October 24, 2011, 12:28 am

    The less I have, the easier it is to just focus on the things that are important, like family and friends. I wish I would have discovered this years ago, it would have saved me a lot of stress and heartache over wanting this and that.

    I’m not quite done yet, since I have items that just functionally I need to either purchase or obtain (e.g. a shell for a winter coat. I finally learned why I was always so cold when it was windy despite wearing a good quality coat) But I’m slowing up on my possession acquisition as I am coming to find I am perfectly happy with what I own, and I don’t need anything more.

    Reply
  • Thaed October 24, 2011, 6:33 am

    Upgrading to 1st class for $150 gave me great pleasure this morning. I got to go through the very short security lane and I get breakfast on my flight. I will have plenty of room too.

    Reply
    • MMM October 24, 2011, 8:43 am

      Donating $1000 to my local underfunded elementary school gave me great pleasure last week. I got to see the look of surprise on the faces of my fellow Parent Volunteers as they noticed that 3% of the entire fundraising budget had come in from this single (anonymous) donor. I like how this will help the teachers have plenty of funding for in-class school supplies, too.

      Reply
      • Fu Manchu October 24, 2011, 12:49 pm

        Haha, pwn3d. Thaed, methinks there might be some larger regrets/anger issues you need to work out…

        http://twitter.com/#!/Thaed/status/1476211473

        Reply
        • Thaed October 24, 2011, 2:57 pm

          But what if I *want* to work until I die? What if I want to die at my desk? Retirement isn’t for everyone. Also, MMM, 1st class upgrades does not necessarily imply non-giving. I happily donate money to a variety of causes all year long. The way has many paths.

          Reply
          • MMM October 24, 2011, 3:35 pm

            Good show, Thaed, for putting up with our knuckling and still coming back with a nice thought ;-). The reason Executioner and I were countering your comments is because you were deliberately undermining the whole message I’m trying to share, which is “Expensive things don’t make you happier than less expensive things”.

            If you can afford the expensive spending, and you’re either not looking for financial independence or you already have it, in the form of never wanting to leave your job, that’s fine too. But that’s not the target audience of this blog.

            I’m trying to break the news to people that they can drastically reduce their spending while taking NO long-term hit to their happiness. In fact, they will almost certainly drastically increase their happiness. This allows people to try a whole new lifestyle that wouldn’t have occurred to them before.

            So while you’re happy with your own lifestyle, it still is not helping anyone for you to go talking about Leisure driving in Mustangs and first class tickets. You’re just going to tempt people who are on the edge, back into thinking they require these things for their happiness and thus they had better stay in their unsatisfactory jobs and spend less time with their kids.

            The goal of these comments is not to validate your own lifestyle to others.. it’s to help people who WANT financial independence, to get there in an exciting and happy way. Examples like yours would be more appropriate over on the Mr. Bigspending Beard blog rather than Mr. Money Mustache.

            Reply
  • Charles S. October 24, 2011, 7:11 am

    Love your site and advice. My biggest discretionary expense, by far, is going to football games, which I’d argue aren’t subject to hedonic adaptation. Why? Because every time I go, I get the same awesome jolt from the atmosphere – the crowd, the cheers, whatever happens in the game. If anything, it’s only gotten better over time.

    I’m reluctant to save money NOW and forego these experiences in the fall, which I usually have with my wife and kids (so there’s the intangible/incalculable benefit to bonding to go along with the game experience). I can save money simply by avoiding games, but I can’t get back the game experiences or the bonding.

    Granted there are other ways to bond, but this is my life’s passion and my whole family happens to share it.

    Point being, there are some “frivolous” expenses that are worth it. Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.

    Thanks for your blog, Every article is great food for thought.

    Reply
  • Giskard October 24, 2011, 9:59 am

    The thing that makes you happiest is your family, thus it isn’t surprising that Americans are buried in debt due to high rate of divorces, not sure what is the cause or what is the affect here. The one constant in almost all personal finance blogs is the writer is always happy with their significant other. It seems to me, the best personal finance choice is finding someone. So if you are single and lonely, you are screwed.
    -Giskard

    Reply
  • AFY October 24, 2011, 12:22 pm

    This statement cracked me up:

    “I happen to like driving around in a nice car. There’s no way I’m going to bike to work all week and work hard every day just so I can drive around in a $5,000 shitbox on the weekends.”

    I was seeing a guy who was in management, sort of a sales role. He took the bus to work everyday. While we were dating, he decided he was bored with his current BMW (in still very nice condition), bought an M6, and sold the older car. So now on weekdays, he avoids the gridlock of commuting, and in the evenings and on weekends, he tools about in his upgraded slice of indulgence. I really liked him for how smart he was about it.

    Reply
  • burntout October 24, 2011, 12:44 pm

    Excellent write-up. The philosophy is simple, but application is where I struggle. How do I reconcile frugality today (85% savings) with the opportunity cost of spending that money now to create experiences? Not easy!

    Reply
  • Mr. Frugal Toque October 24, 2011, 1:23 pm

    I used to feel this way about sporting events and teams.

    Then I went to Medieval Times. It’s a dinner and entertainment package where a bunch of knights have all sorts of fights while they serve you food. When you enter, they assign you a knight to cheer for and give you a pennant in his colour to wave in support.

    After a beer, I found that it was *exactly* like cheering for my favourite hockey team. We even cheered when our guy (the drunken lout, green pennant) took out the noble paladin guy (white pennant) with a kick in the ‘nads.

    So you might be able to save some money by picking a high school football team that has your favourite colour (this may be important, mine was and still is green) and attending their free games. I understand the crowds in the U.S. are really into it, even at the high school level, so it might provide the bonding you need right inside your community.

    I know it sounds patronizing, but it really does work.

    Reply
    • Dancedancekj October 24, 2011, 7:46 pm

      Man, I wish they had a “Medieval Times” in my zipcode!

      I watch So You Think You Can Dance, and I find myself justifying and rooting harder for my favorite dancer than any sports enthusiast. Sometimes to the point of anger or despair (like in Season 6 when Jakob Karr was ROBBED). It’s free (technically) and I don’t have to deal with crowds or parking.

      Point being that yes, you can still have a similar experience and the same fun in a less expensive way for like, 99% of the time. You just have to be creative, I suppose…

      Reply
      • Mr. Frugal Toque October 25, 2011, 1:36 pm

        No, no!
        Medieval Times was over a hundred dollars for the two of us, and that was almost a decade ago.
        I didn’t bring it up as a frugal alternative, but to illustrate the Fungibility of Teaminess.

        Reply
    • Philip July 24, 2012, 7:29 pm

      Even high school football games aren’t free in most places.

      Reply
      • bwall February 11, 2014, 11:19 pm

        Compared to college and professional games they are! :)

        Reply
    • Lily April 19, 2014, 8:50 am

      Some of my best baseball memories (aside from playing the game) are from dropping in on local games between teenaged teams, sitting in the simple bleachers or even in park benches behind the backstop.

      Reply
  • BDub October 24, 2011, 6:02 pm

    I think one nuance of the topic that could be extrapolated in the future is how all of this pertains at the individual level. The happiness survey and the parapalegic/lottery winner study give good detail on happiness at a macro level (averages for a population) but not how it works at the individual level.

    For an individual, we all have a baseline level of happiness. Some people are just happier than others. The good news is our levels are not pre-determined 100%. We can enhance happiness for ourselves by testing/challenging our emotional state to keep it from adapting to positive things (new hobbies, meeting new people, traveling to different places).

    This is also why a shitty commute to work sucks. There are too many variables in a shitty work commute for our minds to be able to adapt to it. This every, every day commuting can feel just as bad as the day before. This is yet another reason that a long commute is for sukkas!

    Reply
  • Weston October 25, 2011, 8:45 am

    MMM

    Outstanding posting. Some of your best work yet.

    Reply
  • Dividend Mantra October 28, 2011, 5:42 pm

    Great job here.

    Earlier this year I couldn’t imagine functioning without a car, but since getting rid of it 5 months ago I almost can’t remember what it was like driving everywhere. I get by with a combination of using the bus and walking. I’ve also grown quite happy spending more time reflecting and watching my goals become closer and less time watching TV and worrying about how I was going to pay my bills.

    Reply
  • Gerard November 15, 2011, 4:58 pm

    I thought of this post when I saw this ad today:

    http://coupons.redflagdeals.com/i.php/coupon/13654/priceangels_5-off-cool-2-ch-remote-control-flying-shark/

    Yes, you read it right. It’s five percent off a remote control flying shark. At what point do people decide that they need a remote control flying shark? Is the five percent off the deal-maker?

    Reply
    • Gus January 25, 2012, 3:40 pm

      Do they shoot lasers from their eyes?

      If so, i’ll take a dozen!

      Reply
      • CountryMom March 23, 2013, 10:13 am

        Love it!!! Thanks for a good laugh!

        Reply
  • Davis R January 7, 2012, 9:15 am

    It is unusual that someone with such an enviable career path and relatively smooth pay upgrades should have such a well balanced perspective on money, materialism and meaningful living… Thanks for the refreshing and uncommon insight.

    Reply
  • Petey C February 8, 2012, 4:13 pm

    I really like your comment at the start about ‘saving the human race from destruction of its environment’. Far too often, people have a narrow view of saving the environment (like turning off light bulbs, or unplugging their mobile phone charger when not in use). EVERYTHING costs energy to make, and the flow of money really comes down to a flow of energy at the end of the day. So enjoying life without waste – that’s what MMM is about, and that’s what saving the environment is really about.

    Great to see MMM has a sensible perspective on the environment as well as personal finance.

    Reply
  • Clint April 18, 2012, 6:57 pm

    What a great post, MMM. I’ve got to figure out a way–without being obnoxious about it–to get all the people I love to read you, too. It would be nice to have some company on this journey. I’ve read the posts about “having the talk,” but I think a better idea would be to point them here, then discuss.

    All that aside, I’ve got to ask a stupid question: am I misreading this one or did you get another motorcycle?

    Reply
  • anonymous June 22, 2012, 4:56 pm

    I think you’ve definitely hit on one of the single biggest core issues that affects happiness and leads to consumerism. However, I think you could potentially take it further, to increase your happiness even further in a way that will not affect your baseline.

    As you pointed out, many things will provide a short-term boost to your happiness level, which will subsequently become your new baseline. If you enjoy that short-term boost, and want more of it, then you can do more of those things. If you apply this to purchases, you get consumerism; if you apply this to drugs, you get an addiction.

    In your case, you’ve learned to live without those short-term boosts for the most part, and you very thoroughly enjoy the ones you allow yourself to have. You’ve also learned to calibrate your mental baseline somewhat lower than your body’s actual pleasure responses; in other words, you have the discipline to appreciate a bike ride even though you’ve done it many times, without allowing yourself to recalibrate to consider a bike ride boring and commonplace.

    However, you don’t necessarily have to choose a destructive habit to enjoy frequent short-term boosts. In my case, and in the case of numerous geeks and others who value knowledge and experiences, *change* and *variety* provide the same kind of short-term boost, but I can obtain change and variety in repeatable and non-destructive ways.

    I get the same or higher levels of joy from solving an interesting CS problem that most people get from buying a new toy. (Let it not be said that I refrain entirely from occasional toys, so I have a direct basis for comparison here; however, I can justify most of my toys the same way you can justify your construction tools.) And my happiness grows with the difficulty of the problem. Hand me an “impossible” problem, or a problem nobody in the industry has solved yet, and mere *stuff* can’t even hope to compare with that kind of bliss.

    This kind of joy, at least to me, does not reset my happiness baseline significantly. I do grow to expect interesting problems on a regular basis, such that I would find it upsetting to go without them, but that does not decrease the happiness I experience from individual problems; it just causes me to seek out even more interesting and difficult problems to solve. Together with corresponding increases in my skill level, driven both by experience and by the *need* for those skills to solve the problems I choose to take on, I have a lovely upward spiral of happiness with no end, that as a quite intentional “side effect” allows me to have a significant impact on my version of goal #3: making the world a better place in the most efficient possible way.

    Reply
  • Heath September 11, 2012, 11:04 am

    This is still the single best post on your blog. It addresses SO MANY of the problems that I hear from people on a daily basis. I keep coming back to this post and re-reading it (on a weekly basis, at least).

    It’s just SO FUCKING RIGHT ON!

    Reply
  • Katy September 19, 2012, 10:49 pm

    I read this just in the nick-of-time! My fiancé and I have been obsessing over your blog lately. (reading start to finish). Just tonight I almost had a shopping addiction relapse. I’m rather addicted to sportswear much like your very own Mrs. MM. I almost left Lulullemon with “the perfect” bag tonight but instead came home to read more MMM. This is basically my 13 step program. Thanks MMM…. I keep reminding myself “it will be better to be home with my future babies than have X”. But MAN I love Lululemon.

    Reply
  • hands2work September 25, 2012, 3:36 pm

    So I have a question, a real question, not trying to be difficult. Let’s say this lifestyle you have built survives for decades. (I, for one, certainly hope it does.) You and the Mrs. live in complete contentment with your 700k plus employees working away for you. You raise Mini-M to be equally frugal and he raises his own family of Tiny M’s. In your old age you and Mrs. M fall asleep one night and neither of you wake in the morning. What happens to your 700k+ employees? Do you leave them to the son? Do you leave them to charity? You really can’t take it with you.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache September 26, 2012, 6:39 am

      Given such a fortunate situation, we would probably give away more money to charity as we got closer to kicking the bucket. I don’t really believe in family estates and inheritances, although my son can have a say in whether he wants the dough or not. If the younger generations are already happy and capable of making their own way in life, there’s no need to throw them off balance with a bunch of unneeded cash.

      Reply
      • hands2work September 26, 2012, 6:42 am

        Good! That seems like a fabulous solution, of course young Mini M will be as skilled as his parents in amassing his own employees, so he will have no need of the excess. :) Thanks for answering!

        Reply
      • CALL 911 February 19, 2013, 7:10 pm

        In my line of work, we have a saying for a very similar type of issue: “the good ones don’t need it; the bad ones don’t deserve it” (referring to a type of aid/assistance that can decrease overall outcomes). I believe it can be applied to inheritance as well.

        Reply
  • stutter-k February 7, 2013, 7:27 pm

    I just want to say, for my very first comment, and upon this olden poste, how very much I appreciate the fine use you make of capitalization in your writing.

    Reply
  • Cujo August 30, 2013, 6:56 am

    A peculiar and wonderful thing, though: I’ve been riding a bike for my entire life – nowadays, over 1,000 miles a year – and yet it seems to be immune to hedonic adaptation. I still grin like an idiot every time I ride.

    Reply
  • KWAK September 12, 2013, 9:33 pm

    I’ve been having a MMMathon since a friend told me about your blog. I almost skipped this post because I’m beginning to feel a bit guilty about all the time I sit on my butt reading these. Am I ever glad I didn’t skip this one! I’ve already sent an excerpt and link to others I think would benefit from this particular post, plus I’ve selected a nugget to add to my refrigerator door — right below Romney’s picture. He’s my patron saint of Just Say No to Helping the Rich Get Richer. Well done, Mr. MM, well done!

    Reply
  • Army Colonel K September 30, 2013, 2:37 pm

    MMM – I know you may not get back to this (brilliant) thread for some time, but when you do….

    How about things that cost a lot but provide lasting enjoyment? Especially if you already have the other meaningful aspects of happiness covered?

    My wife and I (you met us both in Kailua) are both healthy, love our kids and family, are active physically and in the community. We are having a TON of fun. But we’re having a bit of turmoil about a potential house purchase here.

    Personally, I really want a house that doesn’t have neighbors right next to it, because I do NOT enjoy hearing my neighbors have a party every three weeks (which they do, and even though I like them, it gets old hearing drunken partying next door, and no, I don’t want to go join the party every time) and I’d also like a place with serious views, because that is somewhat like riding a bike – the enjoyment of looking out my window every day at a beautiful view doesn’t seem to wear off. Maybe because it’s nature and somehow refreshes my soul, I don’t know… but it does make me happy. I don’t need a big place, just some space to breathe and something beautiful outside the window. The wife, well, not as much. And most of the houses with space and views are, unfortunately, somewhat largish.

    Needless to say, a place like that on Oahu doesn’t come cheap. After a lifetime of Mustachianism, however, we can afford it. Yes, it actually would involve working for three more years than the “quit tomorrow” option that is already in front of us if we live in a crackerbox. But by God, I really don’t want to live cheek by jowl with the neighbors… I want people around, just not too close. And I have to admit, I’m a bit intoxicated by the amount of money I’m making at a job that I actually enjoy (and that allows me an amazing amount of free time), so I wouldn’t mind working the extra years.

    Is there room in the philosophy of the Mustache for dropping a lot of hard-won Mustachian coin to solve this particular situation? Or are we supposed to move somewhere else in the world, leaving behind friends and relationships, so that I can have some privacy without spending seven figures? To me, that doesn’t seem the path of happiness either. Or are we supposed to set up a foundation to educate the impoverished, while suffering through drunken goat-ropery next door every few weeks?

    I call upon the Mustachian Community for oracular vision….

    Reply
  • Steve March 25, 2014, 8:55 pm

    I “discovered” this blog about three months ago. But about six months ago, the tranny in my 13 year old Acura TL blew. My wife had been driving her forlorn 2001 Subaru Forester for 13 years. So I did what any loving husband would do. I dropped $50,000 on a new Lexus SUV. And I took possession of her Forester, put some money into it to fix it up, and am driving it. Then I started reading this blog. MotherFUCKER! Oh well….May as well make the best of it. I’ve started taking a commuter bus most of the way to and from work, and and have a car free day every weekend.

    And the ‘win’ happened last Sunday. My wife said, “Steve. I don’t want to make you angry. But that Lexus? It’s a nice car and all, but after six months of driving it I’ve got to tell you, I’d be just as happy with the Subaru. I know it’s not what I said at the time, but it’s what I’m saying now.” So yes, I pointed her right to this blog post. It’s never too late to learn and become bad assed one baby step at a time.

    P.S. We DID save 46% of our take home pay last year. Not 50% but not terrible.

    Reply
  • dan May 28, 2014, 9:14 pm

    I have read ‘a guide to the good life” and it is a fantastic book that fits within my own philosophy of life and has given me many other stoic principles to take and mold into existance. I regularly “cherrypick” chapters to re-read when I feel I need a reminder/inspiration/advice. ( oddly enought I seem to re-read the chapter on how to deal with annoying people a lot :s)
    I absolutely was lured into buying things for the initial rush before reading the book but now if nothing else it makes me think “do I really need this purchase” and just the thought thwarts many impulse buys! slight shift of mindset works wonders!

    Reply
  • Joe June 5, 2014, 2:19 pm

    “59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot” By Richard Wiseman is another great book that talks about Hedonic Adaptation. Lots of great scienitific tips for a life well lived in that book.

    Reply
  • Tim June 13, 2014, 8:22 pm

    I’m quite late as I’m playing catch up (as so many other commenters have done) but maybe this will find someone. Besides just the adaptation, there is the very real danger of becoming too attached and worried about your possessions. This is true when you let your happiness be determined too much by any external factors, but especially for possessions. Some people have asked my dad over the years why we always leave all the doors to the house unlocked, and the answer is always one of two things: “If I need to worry about my stuff being stolen, then I have too much stuff”; or “if someone comes in and steals from me, they probably needed it more than I did anyway”. And then there’s his remarks on being unemployed: “It’s a bummer being unemployed, but for an American family we’re still doing incredibly well. If you think about the whole world, we’re living a life of absolute luxury. And if you think of every person who has ever lived, we’re living so opulently that complaining is impossible.”

    Reply

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