Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Christmas: A psychological perspective

I've written on the topic of happiness before. And the current issue of The Economist actually leads on the topic.

So I thought I'd distil some of their words of wisdom - but add to them my own particular Christmas spin.

Capitalism is adept at turning luxuries into necessities - bringing to the masses what the elites have always enjoyed. But the flip side of this is that people come to take for granted things they could have coveted from afar. Frills they never thought they could have become essentials that they cannot do without. People are stuck on a treadmill: as they achieve a better standard of living, they become inured to its pleasures.

In other words, if you buy stuff, you get used to it quidkly. So even though a new little luxury might give you a burst of joy initially, you'll get used to it.

To add to the problem:

Many good things in life are 'positional'. You can enjoy them only if others don't. Sometimes, a quick car, fine suit or attractive house is not enough. One must have the fastest car, finest suit or priciest house.

In other words, we tend only to enjoy stuff because we feel it makes us better off than the people around us. Status tends to be more important to people than we let ourselves believe.

So what do the economists suggest you do?

The economic arbiters of taste recommend 'experiences' over commodities, pasttimes over knick-knacks, doing over having.

So if you really want to be happy this Christmas, focus on doing 'stuff' rather than buying 'stuff'. Spend it on travelling to see people you enjoy spending time with. Spend it on eating out, ice skating, going to the movies, playing Cluedo or kicking a football around in the garden, sharing a coffee and gossip or having drinks with friends and loved ones.

But whatever you do, have a great festive season!