Saturday, September 15, 2012

Don't Buy It

Months back I happened to watch this Ted Talk which discusses (among other things) the relationship between income and happiness. It was a major eye opener for me. I found it very liberating to recognize that much of what I perceived as a want/need was something that in the end really didn't affect my happiness. I've become convinced that a much simpler existence would actually provide no less life satisfaction, and probably would produce more.

So I just wanted to share a couple of related resources on this topic. I thought the below 9 minute commentary entitled "You Don't Need to Buy This" was very worthwhile.

There's an article by the speaker that's worth reading here.

I recently watched a movie, available streaming on Netflix that's called "Happy." It explores the relationship between perceived causes of happiness and actual causes.


Examinator said...

I'll add this guy to my data base too.
I can hardly disagree with the principal can I ....given it permeates most of my posts.

The sad reality is that any type of marketing uses a combination of emotional triggers to manipulate us into purchasing the largely unnecessary under the guise saving time or ease use will give us more time to be happy. Some even uses subliminal queues to identify with happiness... the famous one was "Things go better with Coke" really??

Their whole empire was built on the being American and a little bit of "HOME" (happiness) for soldiers in WW2 they made sure that where ever they were housed Coke was there. There were even songs on the hit parade "drinking rum and coke cola" was one.

Look in your laundry closet and odds are that its full of Lever and Kitchen cleaning products.. many of the washing soap powders are made by them or under licence. What you may not know is the differences are minor and in the marketing additives. *Fillers* fragrances and the psychological interesting one, fluorescences. Yes... that's right. best seen under UV light.
In the west we favour white fluorescence and...wait for it in Asia they prefer yellow.

BTW you can go to bulk small washing powder manufacturers (suppliers to the big boys)and buy say in 10 Pound lots the same washing soap minus the fillers,foamers(which do nothing but make foam) and fragrances and the pretty boxes for less than half the will last several times longer and that white gunk you find in washing machines is generally an undissolved additives.
In fact 90% of most cleaners can be easily replaced by cheaper more effective base products but then again you don't get than "whiter than white” or “clean smell(?)".Baby bottle steriliser, is if you look, is 1% Chlorine and 98% WATER 1% additives that hardly make any difference. It used to be meta bi sulphate powder but that needs more care to use. I washed/sterilised my home brew bottles in Meta Bi sulphate at half the cost. 'Hospital grade' Disinfectants are generally 5-8% Chlorine , petrochemicals,and fragrances.
All this goes to show that most products are more about justifying marketing product *perceptional* differentiation than actual substance. In essence more unnecessary middle men. Whose sole purpose is to gouge more MEANS of profit. To do this they have used sensation, naivety, half truths and emotion (linked in different ways to happiness). More free time? To do what ? Consume recreational products... which is simply a con job. Driving your 'freedom machine'? Let's get real if you aren't concentrating then you're an accident looking for a place to happen. Ever driven for 10 hrs are you happy and relaxed...even less likely , if you are on a road trip with children, you're dreading tomorrow. Or considering the cost benefit of multiple counts of infanticide, child and or wife beating. Any one says they enjoy road trips with children is either delusional (under the influence of prescribed or illegal substances) or masochistically insane. Either way shouldn't be in control of a lethal implement (s).
Sadly the same emotional flimflam is (ab)used to sell politicians, presidents et al.
I'd vote for a dull but competent dedicated representative who's focused on the will of his electors before a persona any day.
Yet we focus on personality ...Romney is wooden, and Obama is hype. and complain about how they are both unconnected to our reality rather than join a party and change something all because we're SO busy doing what? ....being happy ? no !consuming doing exactly what we're told/conditioned to do.

Examinator said...

Humor aside trips are a stressful event and it's invariably what one does at the destination that's the important part but consumerist marketing would have you believe that cruising around being a self important jerk is what it's about...i.e. sell the sizzle not the steak.
A vehicle is "the means to an end" not its ownership. it makes you happy important until you begin to realize that you are one of many and there are others out there with better ones.

Examinator said...

Hey guys
Coincidently this program aired in Aus
It's worth the watch
Sunday best then surviving Technology

Chad said...

Not sure I buy in completely on this, I think the foundational pieces outlined by the professor is quite honestly not a revalation of any kind. I would be interested in the 'studies' he mentioned and how they were conducted. Without my family I am nothing, but again that is not a mind boggling statement IMO.

After reading Ex's take, I guess that my wife and I are looney tunes because we are definitely not on drugs and we don't drink when we drive, but we absolutely love road trips with the kids. It gives us the one on one time to discuss family items, ideas, believes and to unwind to a degree from our very busy life. We took a five hour drive this Sunday with no real destination - ended up finding a park that we stopped at for an hour, but it was fun.

For me personally I can that technology has dramatically improved our lives. When I travel I get to see the kids at daycare when ever I want, we hook up via Skype just about anytime they need and in some cases we actually have more memorable family moments that way. When I went to Gettysburg a couple weeks back we were Skype'ing and the kids got to see (live) things I saw and they loved it. Same thing when I was in NY - they walked with me in Times Square and my son talks about it still today asking when I will go back. Hell they picked out the toys they wanted right through the computers. This week my wife is traveling - she went to a Graham Elliots restaurant last night and we practically dined with her. Since we have a friend that works their (looking to be Graham's next Exec Chef) we even got a behind the scenes tour which included a hello from Graham Elliot himself! Does those types of things make our lives better - I say absolutely. Even when we are not together physically we can be together as a family.

Can we live without those things - also absolutely, but to us they enrich our family experience. Tonight she is going to Wrigley field and once again we'll be there with her. It takes the sting out of the required travel and in many cases brings our family that much closer to be honest. Without this kind of technology I think the travel schedule would be a negative on the family.

As far as cars/possesions - its funny to think about the perfect world according to the Professor because it would eliminate millions and millions of jobs. Everyone has one pair of jeans, two shirts and one pair of shoes - we don't buy new phones or cars - sounds like an absolutely boring existence to be honest.

For me, having a little bit of money allows us to enhance our already strong family dynamic - if we lost it all tomorrow we would still be a strong family, but being able to use our earnings to take it to another level is very gratifying.

Jon said...

So I take it you like Skype, Chad?

Hey, Skype is cool. I use Google Voice. Sure, enjoy your i-pad and Skype away. Nobody is here to tell you that Skype is a bad thing. But you buy a couple of devices to run it and you're all set. Do you have to pre-order two i-phone 5's to accomplish that? Nope. You already have what you need to do everything you described. So why spend so much money? It's those kind of expenditures that require you to work as hard as you do, travel as much as you do. How much value does it bring?

Because according to the research this purchase is unlikely to make you any happier. You'll get a temporary rush when you first get it. You'll be pretty excited. And then it will wear off. You won't feel any different than the way you did with your prior phone. But Apple will have your money. And your retirement date will come just a little later than it otherwise would (assuming you plan to retire when you reach a certain level of wealth).

Maybe you like the feeling you get from the fact that you have it and your poorer neighbor doesn't. But the research also shows that you'll also notice the slightly richer guy that has more than you. On net this "keeping up with the Jonses" feeling you get won't make you happier either.

Like the guy says in the video, his friend by living simply was able to just tell his boss "I don't want to teach that class, so I'm not going to." Can you tell your boss that today? I can't. That's freedom. If you love your work and would do it regardless of the pay, then fine, you're all set. But if you think you might enjoy the kind of freedom that says you can go to work if you want but don't have to if you don't want to, that's something of value. You have to ask yourself if exchanging that freedom for an RV and an iPhone is worth it. That freedom allows you to focus on building solid relationships. That truly brings happiness. The iPhone5 can't help with that any more than the iPhone4 can.

Jonathan said...


Great post - I'd heard of the book Think fast and slow, but didn't realize it had as much depth as it does. I'll have to read it in the near future.

As a corollary to what you’re saying, I think that it’s useful to flesh out the point a bit more that being unfettered by a job that restricts your freedom, or saddled with debt which limits the amount of choices you have does not in and of itself lead to happiness. You see that in folks who have recently retired, or those that win the lottery. Part of it is the whole problem of pleasure thing. Sitting on a tropical beach with the family can be fun for a few days, but can be down right torturous after a month (or so I’ve heard…).

So when Daniel Kahneman mentions doing things for the greater good or things which are difficult to achieve and how these lead to a more lasting happiness, you really need to make that a daily practice, and not just an occasional pickmeup if you’re looking for increasing your level of happiness.

I heard some great advice a few months back from an entrepreneur speaking to an audience of folks trying to leave their 9-5 and become financially independent. He said something to the effect of “picture what you want a typical day to be like for you 2-3 years down the road, but don’t forget to include at least 4-5 hours of hard productive work. Figure out how you can contribute to society and what your strengths are, and spend at least 4-5 hours doing this per day if you want a sustainable and content life”.

For me anyway, I see great value in the day to day struggle of not only trying to become financially independent through saving and living moderately, but also by the struggle of trying to find what my skills and abilities are, and how I can use these to bring value to those around me as I develop my business. This I believe, will not only allow me ultimately make money doing what I love and am good at, but will also lead to deeper fulfillment of going through the struggle and character development required to get there, and maintain a balanced life after I’ve moved on from the 9-5 job and am completely debt free….

Chad said...

Well my service contract allowed us to upgrade to the 5 without very much out of pocket expenses.

I love work so I love my job, I love earning money and winning.

If my choices are to be free from a job to own nothing or very little or to be a slave to work and enjoy the one life I get - sign me up for a pair of shackles and chaines.

Our definitions of freedom appear to be slightly different and that is okay.

Jonathan said...


How about a 3rd option – doing work you love, when you want, how you want, and make more money doing it than you currently do by not having to always trade money for time through passive income? Then you could get all the goodies you like, and have as much freedom as the minimalist with the rotary dial land line. :-)

Examinator said...

oh dear I failed! I was attempting to be satirical (humor). I don't know how old your children are but when mine were 7-8 ish there was considerable sibling rivalry, ....'Bevan's hogging all the seat',..."no I'm not!"..."Tegan's punching me" ...'Calen just farted'..."'no I didn't it was Bevan!'".... et nauseum.
Then you can look forward to when they're teenagers and being seen with Mom and Dad in public seemed to be some form of insidious and excruciating torture.
From report of other families at the time it appeared to be + or - normal simply growing up and developing individuality.
Samuel Clements (Mark Twain) said to the effect that when he was seventeen he couldn’t bear to have his Father around while they were discussing important questions but when he was twenty-five it was wonderful how the old man had improved.

My children ( that I know of) range from 27- 38 and I'm still waiting for them to acknowledge my genius. ;-)

Examinator said...

I think your argument about unemployed people not having second and third vehicles or the latest iphone misses the point.
the choice in Scorceses' Doco I mentioned pointed out clearly that the ultimate choice isn't about neo con capitalism but rather survival of the species. They examine the human mind in the evolutionary sense... how we are physically/emotionally/ instincts still akin to Homo habitalis . We have not evolved significantly since Cromagnon/Neanderthal man 50k years BC but technologically C22 AD....the disconnect between the two.
We are the only species that has the power to and is changing the biota to so fast as to facilitate our own extinction.
It investigates the options...the notion that science will save us... the evidence is thin on the ground that we'll be able to....if we do then what does 'human mean and the consequences of Homo post Industrialus .
A book I 've just finished explores a variation of the theory of 'punctuated equilibrium' evolution. i.e. evolution isn't gradual but a series of environmental 'pressure' initiated steps/paradigms ...jerky leaps... this would explain the absence of transitional species specific fossils.
My point was we can all have a good lifestyle only that we rearrange the priority of our criteria ...skew it more to people.

Let's say that Romney is correct in his numbers of 45-47 % of Americans don't pay tax and will always support Obama (I'd suggest that clear evidence suggests that not all of them are poor ….tax evasion and avoidance are trillion $ industries)....NB THOSE NUMBERS CLEARLY ENCLUDE NON VOTING CHILDREN
Ergo he is implying that in the USA 2/3 of the 300 million Americans aren't involved in a meaningful way. This would include Pensioners of various forms 'disabled (incl vets), old aged and prisoners'.
The sociological ( not socialist) questions here is why? 65- 75% of your population AREN'T involved in a MEANINGFUL way in the 'American “capitalist” dream'?
Either the numbers are utter Bull shit or A system that excludes that high a percentage of the population from meaningful participation in the society can't be functioning well!

How does that level compare with say other non capitalist societies? There seems good evidence that those primitive societies participation rate was much, much higher.... something like 85% …. the laws of supply suggests that the society could support 15% of it's population to be fully involved in non productive activities .. Even the old served productive purposes child minding , teaching....

If we now jump back to human nature, specifically that which supplies our identity (need to belong and therefore participate meaningfully in our grouping...society). In fact most people will become increasingly aggressive if they continue to be excluded.

One can extrapolate that to The Teabag 'bowel' movement (sorry couldn't resist), the Occupy movement,the Israeli/Palestinian, Middle east Spring and yes to America's myopic hegemonic foreign policy and
the Corporate Capitalist system as it's practised.....based on exploitation and exclusion.

Jon said...

Regarding iPhone5, that makes sense. I think it's unfortunate that our phone contracts are set up in such a way that we are encouraged to discard perfectly useful equipment. Ex mentioned electronic waste and the hazards associated with it. Additional there's the energy required to create these products.

But I understand and I don't blame people for just going with an upgrade when it's very cheap. I was planning to do the same. Back around April my 2 yr contract expired and so I had the option of the upgrade. You know the drill. Some phones are free. The iPhone would have set me back $200, but that's not bad considering what I'm getting. But I changed my mind. It's not the money. I could skip the iPhone and get a much better phone that what I have for free. But it's the principle of it. My phone still works and I want to do my part to not contribute to excess.

Also I understand your point on freedom. If you want to get on a plane and fly anywhere in the world right now you can do it and the reason is because you can afford it. And that is freedom too. Affording it (usually) means working, which does mean you have to take orders from the boss (I can see Jonathan getting ready to reply right now).

Freedom is kind of being able to do what you want. I suppose you and I both would LIKE to have the option to tell our boss no if he requested something we didn't want to have to do. But that may conflict with another want. Maybe the want that is the purchase of a new RV in your case.

We both would LIKE to have the option to tell our boss's no, but I think in a lot of cases people sacrifice that want in favor of contrived wants. Wants for a big house, a new TV, a new car. Some people think they want such things. They think they will bring them joy. But they don't. And now they are locked into that work condition because they sacrificed a want in their professional life for consumer goods. Consumer goods that they were led to believe would make them happy, but in fact don't. Breaking that misconception is my goal. If someone here reads this and realizes that the wants in their head are contrived they may forego them. This opens up other freedoms for them that in the end will lead to more happiness.

Jonathan said...

Hey Jon,

You sound like a Buddhist now taking about wants and needs (although you didn't mention desire). :-) You mentioned you have Netflix, so you should check out this documentary on Ricky Williams. If you don't know (don't know how much you follow Football), Ricky basically left a huge contract and shunned consumerism, and went to India to study alternative medicine and search for happiness.

I found it rather inspiring...

Examinator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon said...

Enjoyed that movie, Jonathan, thanks for the recommendation. Poor guy still seems confused to me, but I think his questioning path and honesty with himself will lead him to a good place. Confused is good in a way I think. So many people just unquestioningly follow the standard rat race path. I take it Chad thinks he is winning the race. Does this race actually matter?

If you see that movie I recommended called "Happy" you'll see that the race is on in Japan. Meanwhile in Okinawa they aren't participating. And they live into their 100's routinely. They are very happy. Who's really winning in Japan, the wealthier mainlanders and their high suicide rate or the poor in Okinawa in their huts living to 106 and happy?

Examinator said...

Guys including Chad Part 1

I hear what Chad and your collective silence has said so I've done a translation of my previous post.
I hope this makes it clearer . The problem I have is that these topics are interesting but I have issues with meaningful answers that tend to focus on unrealistic , myopic superficial reasoning. Sadly complex ideas can't be explained in 'comment bites' (as in TV sound bites) . If the answer is simple then a. someone would have come up with it already.......or.....The question is wrong in that it doesn't understand the subject.
I came here to debate (perhaps to learn) , not lecture, ego et al
I am unable/ unwilling to present pop thinking ….I am unable to write like a journalist with an eye on entertainment at the cost of important contextual factors I guess while I 'll still read...Jon does a great job at seeding, well done I won't comment unless specifically asked.

I obviously agree with the ability to say to a boss or any authority figure 'no, it's not my choice' or even 'no it's not my need'... And yes Jonathan I'm a bit like a Buddhist on cranky pills.

To me the KEY issue is a little more fundamental. It's about the continuation of life as we know it and the under pinning moral imperatives that ensure that.

One could liken it to freedom of speech, we nominally have that right to express our views BUT it's the HOW we use/abuse that right that determines between acceptable and unacceptable. i.e. While I might use foul/ aggressive language to or around you while we are alone fishing ( if we're friends) but in front of your wife children....never, that is unacceptable (in context against accepted morality). Breaching that morality has a larger effect too, ultimately weakens the bonds of relationships and drives people into more insular groupings. We simply don't communicate well with people who don't share our sense of morality. Logic dictates we moderate our behaviour or suffer the consequences...

While this individualism(me first) is a natural drive it does work against societal cohesion and leads to social dysfunction (pseudo tribalism) partisanship. Simply look at politics and corporate capitalism today and the disparity (angst)it causes today, Well beyond general accept ability hence all the outbreaks of social stress from Occupy movement on one side and tea bagger on the other.
It is this me first /partisanship and ultimate dysfunction that is reflected in the rapidly deteriorated biosphere.

While we have the same nominal right to freedom to do as we wish it is clear that just because we can ( jump on a plane, buy BS products for PERSONAL conditioned illusionary happiness) doesn't mean we should.
To illustrate why I have previously given the examples of traffic flows along highways how ONE vehicle driving below the speed limit or breaking suddenly can cause a traffic jam. Even pedestrian traffic and through malls when taken in CONTEXT of the WHOLE can be predicted . In both cases one minor action has cumulative effect leading to *seemingly* disproportionate consequences. This effect is used by mall designers and traffic/ road designers.

Examinator said...

Part 2
The same effect is commonly touted as Chaos theory's "butterfly effect". Sadly the common version is the Massive Misinformational and over simplistic .
(I'd STRONGLY RECOMMEND everyone Read "Critical Mass... how one thing leads to another" by Philip Ball. This book clearly demonstrates this principal with everything from electrons to you name it.)

*****One should never forget the most irrefutable fundamental truth of everything.... Life etc as it is exists in *closed* environments. In such an environment everything effects everything else the only wild card is when and by how much. ****** (see the laws of thermodynamics).

Back to the prosaic one person buying an Iphone 5 because it's cheap or even free with a encouragement to spend MORE on their new cell phone = more consumption both with the phone (manufacture,raw materials) but also the ongoing use of energy materials et al.

'Your' individual decision is insignificant even to Apple, they want millions of insignificant individuals to decide for a myriad of JUSTIFICATIONS, although the key motivator is the deliberately stimulated (our Cromagnon/Neanderthal# hard wired Emotion/instinct) want. The pay off to us is the transient sense of happiness.
(This is a well known effect and is played on by purveyors consumer goods. Sometimes called the Chinese meal effect ….satisfy it now an hour later it is hungry again).....hence the constant stream of strategically delayed new stuff. Any good sales person knows that Emotion makes decision, Reason justifies that decision hence they give you perceived 'benefits' provided by the product....regardless of practicality , applicability or real usage.

Apple does this to make a profit... they have NO regard or interest in the consequences.... the one way consumption of resources or the social or biospheric consequences they dismiss them as “externalities”.
But if we return to the immutable fact that in a closed system everything effects everything else one has to ask external to what? By their standard, I could justify my aggressive foul language as 'an externality' too when talking to your family. i.e. that the moral imperative (to moderate) doesn't apply. Really? Hmm?

Argue what you what you will on the emotional level but the moral reality is that " can the world afford the CUMULATIVE effect of 80% of the world's resources (read ability to support the continuation human existence) by 20% of the population (i.e. the 'developed world/ western world)?

You pick the major philosophy/religion all have a similar thrust ....biblically speaking "yes YOU are your brother's keeper"... Yet again I also repeat It isn't that you indulge your emotions inherent human trait, but HOW and by how MUCH.
Jonathan, there in lies the inherent flaw in your much admired Libertarianism it works in Absolutes and was formulated BEFORE the science of everything relates/effects or leads to another.
I don't dispute the 'right' to anything merely caution about the dismissal of The MORAL DIMENSION what is now 'myopic focus' on the use (abuse) of that right in isolation of the indisputable cumulative effect.

Ok guys don't just ignore me ...Prove me wrong!
# if you are a native ofn south east Asia, PNG, Melanesia, Australia add Devisonian
Trying to truncate has made my prose incomprehensible to others at times ....sorry