Hacking Hedonic Adaptation to Get Way More For Your Money

After three years, wall-mounted toilet paper has become the latest thrill.

When I built our current house, I decided to do as much of the work as practical myself, because I learned years ago that this is the most satisfying way I can possibly live.

I love sitting back late at night, especially during cold winter nights or intense summer rainstorms, and looking up at the high ceilings and the ornately framed windows and thinking about all that structure holding itself together and protecting us so nicely inside. Satisfaction.

Sure, practicality also required some compromises – I hired out the big, repetitive task of drywall, and hired friends to work with me on the heavy parts like framing the roof.

But as soon as the house was even remotely habitable, with plywood kitchen countertops and no bathroom sink, we moved in. This allowed me to keep working on the place without being away from the family, and also to move out and stage the previous house nicely so we could put it on the market.

That was in early 2014, and true to my nature I’ve never really stopped working on the house since then. The first things were urgent, like quality countertops and sinks and faucets, appliances and light fixtures and functioning closets, so I did these things quickly. Then I installed a really nice woodstove before that first winter came, then built the second bathroom, and moved on to renovate our son’s room in the old wing of the house that had not been part of the fully rebuilt section. Then more closets, trims, cabinetry, little features here and there as the need arose, and even the rather major feature of the detached Rock’n’roll Studio.

There have been a hundred little upgrades, always arriving with random timing, as time permitted.  And the interesting thing about them has been this:

Each little upgrade – whether big or small – has brought a similar amount of short-lived but genuine happiness.

When I upgraded the countertops from plywood to stone, we were all thrilled at the new, smooth and easily cleanable nature of the kitchen. Then after a week or two, this thrill became the new normal, and it was gone.

But then, I added shelves to a closet, and fighting with piles of clothes in laundry baskets became a joyful flip through a row of hanging shirts and nicely folded pants on smooth wooden shelves. Another thrill! For another couple of weeks.

On and on these small upgrades went, each one accomplished by my own two hands, so that I got the satisfaction of a job well done, and also lived in a house that was constantly getting just a bit better every week.

Looking back, this has been so much better than just moving into a pre-made, perfect, fancy house that somebody else built for me, and doing it this way has also saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars at the same time. And even if you’re not a carpenter yourself, you can get the same benefits by understanding the human pychology at work here.

Hacking Hedonic Adaptation.

You may recall me cautioning you in this long-ago MMM Classic, to avoid buying yourself fancy shit, because the thrill of every new life upgrade – whether it is a nicer dishwasher or a faster Mercedes – always wears off, and your overall life happiness returns to exactly where it was. It’s quite an un-intuitive result, but if you watch yourself over time, you will notice it is uncannily accurate.

For example, I started this blog seven years ago in 2011, and distinctly remember being very happy with life, even way back then. Sure, I had problems just like everyone else, but on balance it was still a great life, because I was already pressing most or all of the actual buttons for human happiness

Some of the recipe for happiness (a slide from my WDS talk)

Since then, I have stumbled into a few upgrades:

  • A nicer house
  • A nicer bike (several, actually)
  • A nicer car
  • A nicer dishwasher
  • Internet fame
  • Several times more money than I had before
  • A really fun new business (the MMM-HQ coworking space)
  • And many, many other nicer things (clothes, electronic gadgets, interesting trips, and so on)

And yet, I’m still not really any happier than before, sitting here right at this moment. My life looks more prestigious and luxurious on paper, but since I was already extremely fucking happy with life before, there was not much to improve.

This brings up a strange paradox. Because I also remember feeling quite giddy and thrilled with each of these upgrades as I made them. Those happy feelings were genuine. What Gives?

The Happiness Bump

The phenomenon at work was the temporary thrill of a new life upgrade. If we were to sketch it out on paper, it would look like this:

The Short-term Happiness Bump from lifestyle upgrades

As you can see, you make the upgrade, and you do get some genuine thrills for a short time.

The key thing to know about your happiness is that you have a ‘baseline’ level. Some of it is genetically inherited, but you can also have a strong affect on it yourself, by pressing the genuine happiness buttons in the diagram above.

Most lifestyle upgrades (cars, dishwashers, or even my new toilet paper holder) do not press these buttons, unless they truly address a shortfall in your previous life.

In the best possible outcome, you might make a life change that helps you gain new skills, increase your health, or improve your life’s core relationships. This could stretch out the shaded “Actual Benefit” part of the graph to be much longer, in the extreme cases for your whole life.

But in the typical outcome, most of us make changes that produce only a short bump, and then may even come back to haunt us with a payback time (which I labeled the “debt hangover” in the picture. Anything that puts you into debt, makes you less healthy or otherwise compromises your ability to live a happy life fits into this category.

Putting it into Practice

Your job as a wise, badass Human is to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and then arrange your life to make the best of things. The temptation to pursue  shiny but useless upgrades is one of our biggest weaknesses.  So try the following hacks:

  • Consider each potential change (whether it is a purchase, a trip, or a lunch out at a restaurant) from the perspective of one year in the future. How much better will your life be in one year, if you make this decision right now?
  • Delay everything and space it out as much as possible. The anticipation of a treat often provides at least as much joy as the consummation. Simply doubling your waiting period will cut your spending on this stuff in half. 
  • By cutting your upgrades into smaller pieces (as I did with the piecemeal home construction), you get to experience the thrill more often.
  • Put your priority on upgrades that remove a strong daily negative or a barrier to happiness. For example, upgrading from a 2009 to a 2018 BMW will very likely not make you happier, but upgrading a barely-functional bike or shitty kitchen faucet to a to a good one you use daily can make a real difference.
  • Find ways to modify each potential upgrade so that it presses more of your happiness buttons. Make it more challenging, do things that require you to learn or accomplish something first, choose things that allow you to create or strengthen friendships, and choose the healthier options out of any alternatives you are given.
  • Use your temptation to buy or consume new things as a habit trigger: catch yourself in the moment of weakness (because this happens automatically and frequently), and use this to do something good for you instead. For example, every time I walk by my fridge and gaze longingly at the handle, thinking of pulling out a cold beer, I am reminded to go out to my back patio and do 100 pushups instead. In really disciplined times (like the last few months for me), I back this up by also not keeping any beer in the house. But even if the end result is a bubbly reward, I have improved the reward bump by packaging in a permanent benefit (fitness) with the otherwise very short term reward of a drink.
  • And finally, keep a list of your top life priorities on your fridge door, or your work computer monitor, or somewhere else that you see it many times per day.  Stuff like better friendships, better parenting, health, financial independence, happiness, personal growth. Looking at this list before you decide to do anything – whether it’s planning a lunch or moving to a new house, can serve as a surprisingly powerful anchor to help you fine tune your happiness bumps – stretching out the good parts and eliminating the hangovers.

Happy Hacking!

In the comments: which life upgrades have you made that ended up producing neutral results or even regret, and which ones have provided more lasting happiness?


  • Tom April 11, 2018, 7:36 pm

    My biggest regret? While I try to not live in the past, I do try to learn from it, so I’ll share a “regret” that may have some context here:

    For a long time, I thought I was too old (60-ish) to start some of the things you talk about. Now I know that my thinking wasn’t right. We’re even talking about selling our mini-McMansion to move into a 1,200 square foot apartment so we can save about $1,200 a month or so. That’s $14,400 a year or $144,000 in a decade, and if we put the money into an S&P Index Fund… You get the idea.

    Heck, you GAVE me the idea!

    Oh, and even if I was 70-ish or 80-ish, I’d still try to do as much of the stuff as you talk about. Perhaps early retirement wouldn’t be possible at that age but happiness is always possible.

    The best thing? Not looking for a wife when my ex- left years ago (don’t blame her; after all, she had to put up with me!); instead, I simply got busy with life. I met a wonderful person 3 weeks after I made that decision and we’ll celebrate our 20th anniversary next year. Funny how those things work out, isn’t it?

  • Janson April 11, 2018, 8:02 pm

    Took me nine year’s to finish working on my apartment and I made it super perfect in the middle of a top 5 American city, while working a fancy white.collar job. Then I sold it for a bazillion to a friend of a friend (who still loves it) and moved into an absolute crap hole that I really liked. I’m a year into renovating it with my wife who is expecting this week. Probably have a decade to go before it is legally habitable. Tonight I have a date with a diamond encrusted grinder blade for use on the four inch sewer line I’m splicing into for a couple new baths. Constant hedonic readjustment. Thanks mustache.

  • Jennifer A. April 11, 2018, 8:30 pm

    * New dining room table that seats six instead of four. We are a family of five now, plus guests and relatives…it’s been wonderful.

    * Orta Gardens self-watering seed pots are pricey as hell for a frugalistas like us, but work brilliantly and don’t have all the plastic and slime of regular seed-starting setups. I love them.

    * All-caps PYREX (vintage) clear-glass casseroles. We use them in place of Tupperware. They are nice in the fridge, nice on the table, and can be reheated stovetop or inside oven.

    * Vacuum cleaners. We used to have none, but with three kids god we use them a lot. We now have a big one, a dustbuster and a floor robot (refurbished, Christmas gift). I use them all the time, along with the broom and dustpan.

    * Huge wall-mount clothesline. I’d never line-dried clothes in my life until the last three years under the influence of this blog, Sharon Astyk and Amy Dacyzyn. We still have a dryer but I use the clothesline whenever possible. I love the excuse to be excuse and commune with the birds and butterflies in the sun.

  • robin schmidt April 11, 2018, 9:12 pm

    I’m of a “certain age”, now a widow, living on a modest, sustainable income, debt free (as I have been since ’94), own my townhouse is a small college town in Maine. I have enough.

    My late husband and I completely renovated our 1860’s farmhouse while running an organic farm in so-called retirement for 13 years. Those were the happiest of days — from the planning, execution, the end results. Living self-sufficiently, hard, honest work, creating memories together. When health issues meant the smartest thing was for us to sell we captured a phenomenal amount of value from that sale. We moved to a well-built townhouse in a very agreeable, active town where I can safely continue to age in place.

    We always lived frugally (we were the living much of the “Money or Your Life” concepts before the book was written), yet we got what we needed, while also being wanting things to be aesthetically pleasing. As I look back what gave me (and still gives me) the most happiness are memories (personal and professional), good friends and loved ones (including those who have passed from my life), things I make or do for myself, along with the items that surround me that give me pleasure on a daily basis (whether it be a treasured painting or a washing machine and dryer with lots of terrific options).

    Have I made stupid mistakes, you bet; have I made things that I ended up throwing out or re-purposing, of course; have I spent money foolishly, yup. But in the end I am content and feel that for most part I made choices that I can continue to draw upon — even those that happened a long time ago, even those that I deeply regret. It all adds up — the bright lights, the neutral, the regretful. Happiness can be, for short period of time, jump and down exciting or intense. For the most part, however, it a quiet sense of ease with ourselves and our interaction with our environment (physically and emotionally) on a daily basis.

  • Steve April 11, 2018, 9:59 pm

    Ugh. Reminds me of my lifestyle inflation from our starter home to our current home. That starter was plenty fine and perfectly manageable. But yet here we are, feeling more like adults having spent more for another bathroom and extra storage space in the garage. It sure is nice, of course, to have all those learnings to buy something more suited to the long term goal of getting the kids off to college, but it is overly luxurious. Should I really be living such a life while others, though no fault of their own or making a fraction of my salary struggle? Maybe more hardship is better for both the goose as well as the gander.

  • greenlivin' April 11, 2018, 10:13 pm

    Positive thing: Planting a garden. It nourishes you, it makes you work outside in the fresh air, you get exercise, it adds beauty to the world.

  • Anonymous April 11, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Regret – moving to a very large, expensive, wet city on the West coast instead of a small town

    Lasting delerious happiness every single day – my horse (only horse people will understand), thank God I’m a vet

  • Helen April 12, 2018, 1:23 am

    The only exception to hedonic adaptation might be taking early retirement!

    10 months into my retirement age 51 from being a burnt out doctor I still wake up and smile every day that I am no longer working!

    • Anonymous April 13, 2018, 8:17 pm

      I’m with you on that Helen. Health care sucks it out of you (me). Although my patients can’t talk, their owners do. I’m ready to pack it in.

    • Monica May 10, 2018, 2:40 pm

      I am a GP in England . Like many, I am burnt out and planning my escape from my stressful life. Thanks to this website I know that I can manage on much less. This year I will be 55 and I am treating myself to stopping GP work and just doing one day a week of family planning. Half hour appointments will be luxury compared to my usual ten minute appoinments.

      This will feel like I am already retired and enable me to defer taking my pension till I am 60, so it will not be actuarily reduced. So for the next 5 years I will be living on an income that will be less than my anticipated pension. This will be good practice for when I do actually retire.

  • Aaron April 12, 2018, 2:08 am

    I decided to read 10 pages a day this year (2018) of books that will challenge my thinking and perspective on life. In the past, it has always brought me a lot of happiness but I sometimes struggled to find the time. Setting small goals like 5 or 10 pages per day has been so much easier to stick to and has actually been better because I find I have more time to chew on what I’m reading and it continues to bring me happiness each day as I examine my life and live more purposefully.

    I am currently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and he talks a lot about what MMM mentioned about deciding what you want your life to be about them basing every decision on those principles. That concept alone can bring a ton of lasting joy.

  • Martha April 12, 2018, 4:26 am

    Transitioning to purchasing most of our household items, toys, clothing, etc at secondhand shops has been a big life hack for us. It is so fun to ‘hunt’ – gives the thrill and satisfaction of shopping, but at a fraction of the cost and often better quality. It satisfies the ‘stretching out’ criteria – we view the decor of our house and our clothing as a long game, so we sometimes wait for things we want to find (like the perfect solid wooden bookcase, which took us two years but we finally found for the price of particle board from Ikea), or sometimes buy things we won’t be using for awhile (especially clothing and shoes for our three kids). That being said, you definitely do have to be responsible as it is so easy to fill up your house with crap. I go to four-five thrift shops a week but I don’t buy things every week. When the kids ask us for toys, items, etc we say, well, we’ll see if we can find it at the charity shop!! And on the waste heirarchy buying secondhand is one of the most responsible things you can do.

  • Joey Graziano April 12, 2018, 5:02 am

    In other words, examine each purchase as an item of oppression. Meaning, each buck spent will take away from what you can invest. Moreover, viewing time in the same light is applicable. Each second spent watching garbage on television vs learning a new skill is holding you back from discovering new levels of awesome.

    I’m not saying we can’t occasionally waste time or spend a dollar on a toy. Just saying acknowledging that fact is a step closer towards freedom.

    “If you learn to serve the king you won’t have to eat rice and beans. However, if you can learn to enjoy eating rice and beans, you won’t have to serve the king.”

  • Steve April 12, 2018, 5:10 am

    In my spendy years I have many examples that didn’t bring long lasting happiness – a new Honda Accord, a custom built fence that didn’t even keep the dog in, thousands of take our meals. After realizing I was happier when I was earning less but living within my means, things changed. My most recent and lasting joyous purchase was 3rd party actuators to fix the auto locks on my 14 year old Scion. I spent $13 and repaired three doors myself saving about $887. I had never repaired anything in my car before. Everytime I lock the door, I get a little thrill.

  • Jennifer April 12, 2018, 6:58 am

    A fabulous winter coat.

    Living in Canada I’ve always dreaded Winter a bit, but I made this investment and now I’m completely comfortable when I go outside for any length of time. Now I can enjoy it! A couple of times a week I think about how much this has increased my happiness because it opened the door to enjoying the change and activities and beauty of winter time.

  • Engineer to Freedom April 12, 2018, 7:15 am

    Nothing like being in a home that truly is your space. What I like most about these home upgrades is that they came from money that your other money made.

  • Chris P April 12, 2018, 7:52 am

    The best changes, with the longest lasting effects on my happiness:
    -Moving from a rural area to the city (Tacoma, WA). I cut my time in a car from 10hrs/wk to zero (I Bike, walk, skateboard), and we live within bike distance of everything now, in a nicer place with a view of the water. All for the same price of housing as our crappy rural place. Less time driving meant…
    -More time with my wife and son. Our relationships improved, our stress went down, and our debt plummeted.
    -Building a philosophy of life based on acceptance, awareness, and understanding. Your genes, and your environment affect happiness, but just deciding to be happy, letting things go, and only living in the present allow much more happiness.
    -Getting rid of things. Hedonic adaptation can cause you to accumulate so much awesome stuff, And when the initial thrill wears off, you just have more things to break, clean, protect from theft, and remember to use. Getting rid of 80-90% of or things has made us much happier, and it is a lasting happiness. We spend time together more, and less time fixing, cleaning, counting, and organizing our things.

    • Mike August 24, 2018, 11:08 am

      Chris P from Tacoma….this is Mike M from Richmond, BC and except for a few minor tweaks my story is almost exactly the same as yours. Your comments very much resonate with me. Thanks for sharing. I agree with all you’ve written.

  • Vanessa April 12, 2018, 8:14 am

    So this has me wondering – for MMM or anyone else who has reached FI/RE….how did your happiness level say 3-5 years before you got there compare to life after achieving that?

    We are getting close to FIRE (1 yr or so) and I am beginning to wonder if I am overestimating the happiness change that is going to create?

  • Dharma Bum April 12, 2018, 8:25 am

    As a direct result of reading the MMM Blog since discovering it in 2012, I took the retirement plunge late last year. Not exactly “early retirement” by MMM standards, but at 58 years old, still relatively early compared to the debt slave treadmill running rats in my cohort.
    That single life changing maneuver has brought me more sustained happiness than I can ever recall having. Of course, there have been others throughout my existence, like graduating, getting married, buying a house, having children – all fairly long-term happiness generating life “upgrades’, but as astutely pointed out by MMM, all inevitably reverting back to the mean of one’s baseline happiness.
    So, this retirement thing has been the first major “upgrade” in a very long time that has provided the sustained sensation of happiness, for myriad reasons, most of which have been elaborated on in numerous MMM blog posts over the past 7 years or so.
    Personally, the single biggest benefit is the recapturing of the most precious asset one can ever have: time.
    Time has more value than money. You can always get more money, but you cannot get more time. Time is what gives me freedom, and freedom is at the root of my happiness.
    So, in terms of lifestyle upgrades that have provided a temporary happiness bump (minus the debt hangover), there have been a couple of extended trips (a six week long ski trip throughout the U.S. and Canada, and a 3 week long beach bum trip to the Florida Gulf Coast – which I am currently on.) These trips were extra happy times, because they were never clouded by the daunting prospect of having to return to the dreaded corporate sweat shop at the end. I love to travel, and retirement has provided the time to pursue this love, and to keep planning future trips. Oregon, California, and Arizona are all booked and in the pipeline for the months to come.
    These things are, however, only relatively short-lived boosts to the happiness scale. Yes, they are great, thrilling, enjoyable, and exhilarating, but they are still “luxuries” and eventually the high wears off and I return to the baseline.
    The REAL happiness, the sustained happiness, now comes from realizing that I have the TIME to pursue daily activities that improve my health, knowledge, and skills.
    A two hour workout everyday is now easy. (Conventional) work used to seriously get in the way of that – the commute alone ate up at least an hour and a half a day.
    I am also learning how to do my own handiwork at home. Things that I would have hired a contractor or a handyman to do in the past, I now tackle on my own. It takes way more time, but time is what I now have!
    I ripped out an old countertop and sink and faucet, and replaced it with a new Corian counter, undermount sink, and new faucet, and installed it myself, including the plumbing. Sure, I had to spend time on You Tube, and at the big box hardware store talking to the dudes to get instructions, but I eventually learned how to do it, and I did it! The satisfaction of doing this type of work for yourself, by yourself is what provides the longest lasting satisfaction and happiness high!
    So, I have a really long list of this kind of stuff to do now (instal an under deck water proofing and drainage system, fix up my lawn, paint the house, renovate two more bathrooms, stain the deck, seal the interlocking stone driveway, landscape the yard, etc., etc.).
    Not only does completing these tasks provide self satisfaction and happiness, the anticipation of having a long and growing list of things to do for yourself (and not your boss, or supervisor, or corporate entity) guarantees sustained long term happiness and motivation.
    Gotta go now. It’s time for my 12 mile beach walk (somewhere between Clearwater Beach and St.Pete’s Beach) here on the Gulf Coast.
    That’ll take about four hours.
    Dharma Bum

  • Angie unduplicated April 12, 2018, 9:59 am

    Regret: wretched health problems in my youth, now under control via modern medicines. I quit college, employability was reduced.
    Now: I never adapt hedonically to feeling better than I did in my ’20s.

    Regret: purchased a run-down house with a country club and three private schools within a ten minute drive. Paid it off in nine yars but spent fifteen years fighting burglars and real estate predators.

    Result: a job with low pay but unusually good benefits I’ve held for over ten years. Beats hell out of the former “good” jobs that took big bites out of my paycheck.

    I never get hedonically adapted to flea markets, scoring/selling deals, saving, and sunny days driving the scratch-and-dent-sale ragtop.

    Timed thrill: music purchases, stuff that never makes it to local radio. I leave them off playlists at first so they can surprise me at random.

  • Ellie C April 12, 2018, 9:59 am

    I have always had frugal tendencies. Early on because of having no money, and later because spending my hard earned dollars on fancy stuff just seemed like a trap. Had the sense to marry a guy who feels the same way (although he has developed a taste for toys, especially camera gear). Now we are both a couple of months away from retiring–not exactly early, he is 60 and I am 64. With our financial independence we plan to do more of the same things we already enjoy. We will stay in the small house we bought 28 years ago and paid off in 14. Everywhere around us in our home there is woodwork and furniture we refinished, walls we painted, framed photos shot by my husband. It is truly ours and it is a joyful place.

    The few regrets I have: a patio and landscaping project that was far too costly for what we got. I was seduced by a $500 off coupon, ha. Am still pulling out the @*&# ivy the idiot landscaper had planted. Clothing bought on impulse and seldom worn. That has not happened for years, though, and I won’t do that again. At this point in life, more stuff does not bring more happiness.

  • Ben29 April 12, 2018, 11:14 am

    Hedonic Adaptation is only half the conversation – but is very important.

    The other factor as seen from many responses above, are those things that we or acquire with money that keep giving us a happiness bump. I still get a thrill jumping on my Mountain Bike for a ride or putting on my really comfortable running shoes and going off to the trails. Or a great vacation that creates great memories with my kids.

    When MMM suggests we look a year out past the purchase, this is the OTHER thing to help you measure the purchase. I’ll call it the Hedonic Boomerang – Will the bump keep coming back?


  • Angie April 12, 2018, 11:37 am

    My husband and I are both frugal by nature. We don’t impulsively buy anything except the one time we bought a house. I had been wanting to move closer to work for a while so I could start biking in. I bought my first house at 23 and after just a few short years realized I made a mistake. We had only been living there 2-3 years and everybody always says you have to stay in a house at least 5 years or else you’re bound to fail at life. So anyways we had been kicking around the idea of moving closer to work for me (my husband works from home so commute is not an issue for him) but figured it would be 2-3 years out. Then one Sunday we decided to visit a few open houses near my work just to start doing research. Well we happened to find the perfect house for us. We decided to make an offer the same day. Our friends and family were all shocked since we never make impulse decisions but it just felt so perfect. I’ve never regretted that decision and I have to say I think my life is mildly happier than before because now I get to bike to work everyday. It gives me and extra 2 bumps of happiness each and every day!

    However a big unhappy decision I made was to buy a brand new car out of college. In hindsight I caved in to peer pressure; while I paid it off in a year because I’ve always been debt averse I now put less than 3k miles on my car each year so it’s just a sinkhole of depreciation. The good news being that I plan on selling it this month and freeing myself of that mistake!

  • Krista April 12, 2018, 1:22 pm

    Interesting diagram on happiness, the “meaningful work” in the middle hit home for me. I don’t think its a one-size-fits-all for everyone, of course. There’s a book I’m reading called “the happiness trap’ and in it, it discusses coming up with one’s values (like you did in the diagram). Once we have our values, then it becomes easier to make decisions in ones life – you can ask yourself, does it align with my values? That’s when it says you lead a happy and purposeful life.

    It also says, similar to your circle of control, that we cant always control everything – including feeling unhappy (we have to accept fears and anxiety’s will be part of life and not necessarily bad). But we can control our actions, even when we are feeling sad or anxious, and try to align those with our values. Then we can still be happy overall :)

  • Laura April 12, 2018, 2:03 pm

    Childcare makes me so happy!! I’m a frugal stay-at-Home Mom and for the longest time I felt bad about putting the kids in childcare programs or getting a babysitter. I love my kids and they also make me so happy, but sometimes mom and dad need a break! If not, that freedom happiness tile is very small.

    Other things that make me happy are having enough savings to dream. Even if I can’t go on a trip to Europe next week, I know that I’m not a slave to money and could do almost anything I planned for in life… that is a wonderful feeling! I also like having an extra room in the house for ideas and versatility. Before we lived in a small townhouse with no outdoor space and every room had an assigned purpose. Now we have a house with one spare room… it’s a guest, craft, office, idea room and I love changing its purpose every few months.

  • W. Dean Pulley April 12, 2018, 2:29 pm

    A long-term relationship with a piece of land that you actively plant and garden is a pretty interesting, evolving pleasure. Disasters (like forest and hurricanes) produce unexpected opportunities for growth (pun intended, ) and at the end of a long work session, you can set back and review how you got there. A workout that kicks your butt and leaves you with something to show for the effort.

    • Ms Blaise April 12, 2018, 4:46 pm

      I agree. We have a quarter acre suburban section, on the side of a hill. It’s still only 30mins walk to centre of our (capital)city, but is surrounded by reserve and trees and other large sections. Now we are in our mid 40’s we consider it a great luxury to seldom leave our section. Three mornings a week the baby and I walk my daughter to her preschool ( about 10mins) and then we head home. We don’t stop for coffee at the little cafe most weeks, and we don’t buy food at the deli. Nor do. take my 8month old out shopping or visiting. Instead, we head home, make a plunger of excellent locally roasted coffee, enjoy the sunny, warm home that we have renovated over the last 5 years, take a walk around our garden and check on the fruit, veggies, bees, flowers, WEEDS!!, and the growth of everything. It’s years off being mature – but the process is fantastic. I have a constant list in my head of jobs to do in the garden so I can never be bored and I even love rainy days because it feeds the plants and soil and gives me an excuse to read garden books. A few hours a week, while the baby naps ( no more than 10) I work on my computer and earn as much as I used to in a full time job, with far fewer expenses. The house and garden are our own little world.

  • Al April 12, 2018, 3:05 pm

    I love this idea of trying to delay gratification. I lived in the US for a few years after graduating from University and then moved back home to Toronto to find that the prices of consumer goods are just ridiculous. As a result, we don’t buy anything in Toronto and do most of our shopping in the US. We go about every 4 – 6 weeks to pick up our stuff from the mailbox on the US side.

    Having to wait up to 6 weeks to get an item really makes me reconsider every purchase that isnt needed right away. I have the option of either paying insane Canadian prices for things (which really boils my blood), or waiting. Most of the time I get lazy about buying it since the reward for the purchase wont come for quite a while.

    This has several benefits including (a) me not purchasing things, (b) anticipating getting the items I had ordered, regardless of how mundane they are and (c) not paying inflated Canadian prices. My wife always says I am so happy on the days we get back from Buffalo since I get to open all my presents.

    • Mike August 24, 2018, 11:23 am

      I assume you also wait 4-6 weeks for your emergency health care, police and fire protection and the services of your excellent local public school?

      Go Blue Jays!

  • Bobby Brown April 12, 2018, 5:11 pm

    I love buying fancy shit. And you know what, years after I buy that fancy thing I still look at it with just as much enjoyment and say “gee, I sure do have good taste.” My favorite (material) thing is when I change out my seasonal wardrobe and find something I totally forgot I had. SQUEEE. And yet, I’m happy and fulfilled, desiring nothing but long life and health for those I love (and I GUESS the rest of the world).

    Reason is, all the material crap is meaningless next to what I truly value: A more Aristotelian happiness framework as you seem to have laid out in your image (nice!). Family, community, purpose, good relationships. These are what makes you happy. Everything else is Play Dough(TM).

    But it’s fun as hell to play. Give me caviar, I’ve learned how to put it on the mini pancake things and act like I’ve always done it that way. Give me a fast bike, I can ride the hell out of it. As long as you’re living within your means, HAVE FUN. Buy that nice stuff and enjoy it! Just don’t sacrifice anything meaningful in order to get it. ;)

    Minimalism is SOOOO boring. What people really crave is virtue. Then you can enjoy material with a proper separation of stuff and identity.

  • Brian April 12, 2018, 10:12 pm

    I had to get a railing for the stairs going down into our basement. We live out in the woods. I found a nice, straight, fir tree, that was close to the right diameter. I then used my 1970s-ish table saw (that my great-uncle-in-law) had given me, to whittle it down so it was the correct diameter for the whole length. Luckily I did not lose any fingers, so I didn’t have to find out how long negative happiness bumps last. I then sanded and stained it, and installed it. I got the initial happiness bump from doing this job, then another from admiring the finished product, and then again when I show it to guests. That was several years ago. I still get enjoyment from it every time I go downstairs.

  • Jess April 12, 2018, 10:24 pm

    Really enjoyed the post and always get excited seeing my new MMM post in my email. When we first moved into our house we realised the shower was leaking a ridiculous amount. Every morning we had to mop after showering as water was everywhere. We were willing to fix it but had received so many different versions on how to fix it we didn’t know where to start. So we put it off for a while and slowly let it drive us insane. We ended up settling on a new shower for $660 installed (I know costly but we had no idea what we were doing…) and just removing that daily annoyance made it one of the best $660 I’ve ever spent!

    I like to try and space our purchases as you have suggested. For example I have been considering replacing our 7 year old dining setting for about a year now but wasn’t sure on what we wanted to replace it with so was waiting until I was able to find something we liked. I have just sold our old one for $150 and will use that to help pay part of the new one. When we finally pick the right one for us it will be all the more awesome to us, and hopefully we’ll be happy with it for another 7 years :)

  • Jon April 12, 2018, 11:30 pm

    I find the more money I make the less I want if that makes sense. You always want something just out of your reach. As soon as your able to attain it the less I want it.

  • Sarah April 13, 2018, 4:44 am

    Don’t forget learning. Everytime you do something construtive, learning is afoot. And that creates enormous satisfaction. Creating and learning are soul food . It’s not happiness – as in, yippy – per se but rather goodness and enlightenment.

  • kruidigmeisje April 13, 2018, 6:12 am

    My best upgrade in life was my divorce. Sad to say that the guy that chance made the dad of my son (contraception 100%…), turned out to be not a good and not even a middling decent partner. The divorce was not easy nor cheap, but it made my life a lot better! Single mum hood was better than the marriage: I had control over my life and could take steps to improve slowly. That life was not easy, so steps came slowly, but step by step I could advance.
    Proud moment was when I could buy a house by myself: to be fitted out in a way that suited us both. Finances fared well when I could rent out attic (which also mitigated for part of babysit opportunities).
    Good decision also was to buy a good bicycle, that suited my body (since the divorce I have a bad back, so I ride recumbent). Not really cheap, but the costs weighed out after a few years and both my body and mind have benefitted greatly.
    It got even better when several years later I met MyHub thourgh biking tours. He is so sweet, and working together life is so much easier! Only drawback might be he is also into bike, so the bike collection has grown to nonMMM numbers… But we use them all and love every moment.
    And the latest hedonic improvement is insulation measures (wall and windows) to our new home. It was a lovely home, but old and cold. Now it is snuggly warm, and after 3 months I still feel like a purring pussycat whenever I am in the house.

  • Expat AJ April 13, 2018, 9:55 am

    Negative Results: bachelor degree, candy (most times, but sometimes in small doses its very positive)

    Neutral Results: master degree, my TV, my apartment (more than I wanted to pay for rent and bigger than I need right now for myself, but it might not be just myself for long…also great bike and public transit access means I don’t need a car)

    Positive results: moving to Germany, learning new things, making or fixing something myself (most times, but not always), grilling a steak to perfection, buying my big comfy bed (still enjoying the bump 1.5 years later)

  • Msfrugal April 13, 2018, 10:42 am

    I spent 4 years house hunting until i found the perfect house, one that i thought i would never be able to afford but it was a foreclosure. I wake up every morning still thrilled with it after 6 years..biggest regret was spending tons of money on cigarettes. After finding this site i took a good hard look at my finances and realised those cancer sticks had to go ! Now i’m £200 a month better off though I dread to think how much I’ve spent over the years and how much that money would have been worth now if it had been invested instead.

  • Angie April 13, 2018, 11:58 am

    Yep…after reading this, I remembered when I was 21 and had just bought my first new car. It was a cheaper model car, (Geo Metro Convertible) and I had worked many jobs during my teenage years to buy it. (Wish I knew then what I know now because I would never have bought a new car! I would have kept driving the car my parents gave me and invested the rest…just think where I’d be today at 46. Long sigh….)

    Anyway, I was going to my weekly babysitting gig and pulled in with the new car. The kids loved it. After a few months and the car was still spotless, one of the kids slipped and told me that his dad said, “just wait, before long it’ll be in the bird poop stage.” I have laughed a million times over that, but it’s true. Eventually the newness wears off…and he was correct, I had quite a few bird droppings on that car after awhile! (BTW, that car was awesome…it got over 40 miles to the gallon and I kept it for over 15 years, racked up loads of miles, tons of fun, and still sold it for $1000 bucks, so in the end, it wasn’t as bad an investment as some things could have been!) Glad I finally found your website even though I’m on the older end. It still works!

    My husband and I have slashed our bills by almost half. We now never eat out, got a wood stove, pack our lunches, changed car and home owner’s insurance, grocery shop at Aldi’s, cut our own hair, and unplug phantom appliances, etc, got the year of Sprint cell phone service for FREE, and cut the cable. It has made a HUGE difference in our lives and we are far happier and stronger as a couple because we are an unstoppable team. Each change has made us excited, and we just paid off $24,000 of debt in 6 months and we are not rich so if we can do it, everyone can do it! Only $10,000 to go and then it’s full throttle retirement saving/investing! THANKS for this great site! It makes me realize what little changes in the budget can do. Who knew????

    • Angie August 23, 2018, 1:02 pm

      Update: That $10,000 was paid off in June (faster than anticipated) and we are shoving money at the mortgage! We continue to be a strong team which makes this life fun! I can’t remember the last time we ate out, but we enjoy meal planning together and seeing how low we can get the grocery bill for the week. In fact, when I’m not working one of my side jobs, I join my husband on the grocery trips. We call grocery shopping our “date night” because we have such fun. It’s always best to figure out your strengths and use them. My husband is a much better frugal grocery shopper so he goes on nights when I work side jobs. Our divide and conquer method to chores. This life is so much better than spending money frivolously and then worrying about money, but having nothing to show for all that was spent.

      This is a great site. I check back frequently and re-read posts to remind me of my next steps in this journey. It looks like I’ll retire within the next three years before or by 50 (using your calculations) and my hubby (who is 5 years younger) will be able to retire in 5-10 more years! I always wanted this, but just two years ago it didn’t seem like it could happen, but in only two years, we’ve made crazy changes and now it’s going to happen! It’s so exciting! THANKS MMM!

      • Nice Joy August 26, 2018, 7:33 am

        Congratulations, you rock

  • Mollie April 13, 2018, 12:39 pm

    I think about this a lot as my husband and I live in a small apartment and are preparing to buy a house–ideally in the next year. We’re satisfied with our apartment overall, and it meets our current needs. We’re both bad at cleaning, and I shudder to think of tripling the space we’re responsible for. However, the water pressure is truly terrible, and we get so much joy anytime we’re somewhere else and gleefully use the shower, toilet, kitchen sink, etc. The bathroom in general was very poorly designed, and again, we’re really thrilled anytime we travel and don’t have to deal with the issues to which we’ve become accustomed at home. We look forward to having some control over stuff like that, but I know it will surely fade. I’m trying to appreciate the apartment and its positives while we still have it, but I will also be very excited to be done with it down the road.

  • Anne April 13, 2018, 2:54 pm

    Months ago I built a kitchen counter w/ shelves. Yesterday I got around to painting the bottom half of it,and my husband just exclaimed how this half painted piece of furniture was bringing him joy. He’ll get another hit of pleasure when I finish the paint job!

  • Kim April 13, 2018, 2:57 pm

    My joy purchases have been my puppy- he will provide me years of joy. It provides companionship and forces me to get out and walk more. Lasting joy and no regrets, plus he was a rescue dog.

    Knitting enriches my life and relaxes me. I try to find my yarn as cheaply as I can but once in awhile I splurge on some good quality yarn and each time I pick up the needles I experience the joy of working with that nice quality yarn again. I usually donate my creations so that makes me feel good too. I knit while I watch tv in the evenings so I feel like I am not wasting my time with mindless entertainment.

    I like to purchase good quality magazines. yes, they are expensive but I like them so much better than the on-line version. I will read them time and again and then I pass them on to others to enjoy.

    Furniture can be a weakness for me. I have spent huge amounts of money on top quality furniture and guess what, in the long run they bring me no more pleasure than a good quality used piece of furniture.

    Simple improvements are the best bang for your buck in my book. I recently purchased a wooden plantation blind for my closet sized bathroom. For some reason, that upgrade seemed to make the space feel bigger and brighter and I enjoy it every morning.

    Wasting money on landscape plants that die is a huge downer for me.

  • Eric The Bicyclist April 13, 2018, 3:28 pm

    Positive Upgrades:
    (1) Meeting my future wife.
    (2) Bringing my own lunch to work every day. It’s almost always beans and rice with tomatoes, which I seem to never get tired of eating.
    (3) Getting in the habit of using my work’s free gym every day after work. Also making my own fitness equipment at home or figuring out how to get enough exercise without equipment.
    (4) Learning to stop caring about negative opinions expressed by strangers.
    (5) Taking bicycling to a level that’s usually considered extreme. I have one bike contraption that I can use to haul three kids plus lots of gear. My other main bike is the Schwinn Varsity that’s probably older than I am and is great for commuting. I drive it down scenic Willamette Blvd. every day that I work. I love the exercise and quickly work up a sweat within a couple of miles. If you’re ever in Portland when the sun has set or isn’t yet up, it’s raining, it’s under 40 degrees F, and some happy-looking guy bikes by with no shirt on, there’s a pretty good chance it’s me!

    Negative Upgrades:
    (1) Going to college because I thought I was supposed to. Looking back, it’s probably good that I went, but I wish I’d done it deliberately and after thoughtfully comparing it to other options like taking a tour with the Peace Corps or joining the military.
    (2) Joining gyms that had fees attached.

  • FIRECracker April 14, 2018, 3:22 pm

    Worst upgrades for me: Shopping.

    Best upgrades: Travel, learning new skills, trying new types of food, meeting new friends (many of whom came from travelling and learning new skills!).

    When it comes to the hedonic treadmill, relationships, experiences, and learning always trumps things. Been travelling pretty much non-stop for 3 years, hedonic treadmill hasn’t set in yet :)

  • BobJ April 15, 2018, 5:43 am

    Being alive.. and every time the seasons change.

  • Married to a Swabian April 15, 2018, 6:10 am

    We are in process on what we hope will be a significant life upgrade: sold current home for $367k, bought new (older) one for $212k. No more mortgage, but plenty of remodeling to do: bathrooms, floors, painting, trim, etc. We are doing quite a bit ourselves – demo, painting, carpentry and finish carpentry and hiring an experienced friend to help with other tasks. Will still spend an additional $30k by time we move in, but will be so much more rewarding and fun to have our “stamp” on the place. Monthly costs on things like taxes, utilities and insurance will also be much lower, resulting in anther $500/ mo savings.

    Also, my wife and I are in our 50’s…and we still enjoy camping. Tent camping. Often when you tell people this, they make a face as though someone has just fouled the air we all breathe!

    We enjoy nature. The experiences and stories you get from camping are priceless. No great story or experience ever started with, “…and then we checked into the Hilton”!

    If you start with tent camping as your baseline, most other things in life become a luxury!

    Our motto, ” It’s like camping only better!”. Beng close to nature is a priority, though, so sometimes it’s hard to beat the camping experience.

    Have also been reading “The Art of Living” by Thich Nhat Hanh. He is a role model for mindfulness and spirituality: if we can all just take time out from the rat race to slow down, breathe, and focus on what truly makes us happy, we would find that the material things that our society holds up as important have little significance at all!

  • Dan April 15, 2018, 8:46 am

    Talk about life upgrade- my daughter was born the day this post was written!! I figure I’ve got about 12-13 years before that high starts to wear off haha. And, as mentioned, the 9 months of anticipation was definitely just as palpable as the actual consummation. My wife and I had a blast ripping through projects and tag-teaming different tasks knowing that it would all change in a short time. A night that I won’t soon forget- was the night before she was born. Sitting on our couch in front of a fire, sipping some wine, saying to each other ‘’ we’re having a freakin child together tomorrow’’! (C-section). The mundane drive into the hospital was just as surreal. We are both super excited for what’s in store during this next massive adventure. Stoicism is the way to go…

  • The CFO April 16, 2018, 9:14 am

    I’ve been through the building homes part a few times and I clearly remember it as being a strong glue for the relationship with my wife, so I adhere completely to the thinking.
    The hardest part, for me, is deciding when is enough “enough” and when do you stop chasing money and start chasing life.

  • Happy Little Chipmunk April 16, 2018, 9:34 am

    Things that keep on giving:
    Exploring new places…and then coming home; road trips with our kids, sailboat trips with my parents, a month-long bike trip with my now-husband before having kids, a family trip to Mexico with the inlaws near the end of my father in law’s life.
    A few creature comforts: An excellent espresso machine. The fireplace insert. Removing the oil tank, having a heat pump installed and having the house insulated. Turning a crappy bathroom into a proper throne room. Having a bedframe made by a local woodworker instead of by IKEA.
    Things that make life better/prettier/organized and teach me something: Putting pretty fabric on the old dining room chairs, building a shed for the garbage & recycling, making a trapeze for the kids, rehabing my grandfather’s bench and block planes and then using them.

    Things that sap my spirits: stuff that gathers dust and takes up space

  • Brian C Ashworth April 17, 2018, 4:01 am

    Best life upgrade for me has been retiring to volunteer for a charity, Disaster Aid Australia (see website above), I have been involved for a year and happiness graph still going up.

    Another long term upgrade was setting up a website and publishing e-books, I get a mini endorphin hit around 3 times a day when paypal emails me to say another book has been sold

    Next best was designing and having built my own house.

  • StephH April 17, 2018, 5:53 am

    The best upgrade we’ve made as a family has been our dog. We waited years to get one mainly because of the commitment, but that dog makes me happy every single day! She’s totally molly-coddled, even though she’s a working lab I treat her as one of the family. She encourages me to get up early for walks before work, making the most of weekends out of the house, my hubby is besotted with her and takes her everywhere he can too. I rush home knowing that she will be waiting with frantic tail wagging and sloppy hugs. It was hard waiting to get a dog, but then the right circumstances fell into place – knowing the breeder, local purchase, right price, help on hand. And owning our dog has encouraged so many more friendships and pursuits. The kids still prefer the cats though!

  • Dee Maurer April 17, 2018, 10:21 am

    I love this post!
    I agree with the benefits of stoic lifestyle. I’ve gone full circle where we grew up extremely poor and for a good portion of my adult life was gathering “things” to prove somehow to myself that I can have the things I want. Given my history, though, my wants were still relatively modest. Now that my kids are growing up and moving out of the house, hubby and I are getting back to our roots and working to retire early in a few years. Every so often I take time to list what I’m grateful for before going to bed. The result is a list fill with the free or low-cost things in life that happened to me that day – family members in my life, our fabulous dogs and fun tricks we teach them, the soft smiles or conversations I’ve had (even the tough ones that I’m privileged to have that teach me something). For the last few weeks I’m working with a cell phone that I’ve fixed on my own several times. It even has a cracked screen, although it’s doesn’t impair my use of any features or touch response. I’m just holding on to it to see how long it’ll last. I could easily afford a new one, but it’s a little experiment to see what I really need and what I can do without. When it finally dies and I do replace it, I’ll be happy with that I got every bit of life out of this device before I send it to the landfill and use additional mined resources for my replacement.

  • DMiller April 17, 2018, 4:23 pm

    I can’t get over the joy I’ve gotten from my most recent upgrade, a 40 dollar programmable timer switch that I installed in my garage. I set it to turn on the detached garage alley light at sunset and turn it off an hour after sunrise. I no longer have to remember to turn it on and off and often watch for it to come on and off to see how long the days are getting.

  • Peti April 17, 2018, 9:24 pm

    Weirdly (or not), I’m kind of getting these happiness bumps through reducing household waste. For example – I switched to soap bars so that we could stop using bodywash in a plastic pump bottle. A win for the environment and for the pocket. Paper towels, make up wipes, etc. – each time I switched to a reusable option I got a happiness bump :)

  • Andrew April 18, 2018, 5:25 pm

    We’ll be getting skylights next month for our main room to bring in more natural light into our house which is oriented to block natural light from coming into those windows. I’m hoping it brings more happiness than just a two week bump (I made the purchase assuming that it would).


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