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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Review: Happy Money

I wanted to like Happy Money. As Meng once said to me, "Those who say that money can't buy happiness don't know where to shop." And indeed, the premise of the book is sound: there are many things that most people do with their money that buys a lot of frustration instead of happiness, and they're well documented in literature:

  • Buying a bigger house doesn't buy you happiness, but buying a shorter commute (one you can walk to or bike to) does.
  • Buying experiences like great vacations is far better than buying the latest Apple/Android/Lenovo product. You get used to your faster computer quickly, but you'll always remember the great experiences you had on your vacation.
  • Whenever possible trade money for time, so that you can have more time for yourself. This is hard because if you're paid more, you value your free time even more, so it's difficult to buy enough free time. House-cleaning services and yard work services are examples of such valuable money/time trade-offs.
  • Spending money on other people is better than spending money on yourself.
There. I've probably given you the gist of the book. My wife asked me if I learned anything new in the book that I didn't already know from reading other happiness studies.

  • The book claims that interacting with children is the highlight of many people's days. This contradicts many other studies I've read where interacting with their children usually leaves parents unhappy. In fact, most studies I've read indicate that having children is a surefire way to destroy your happiness.
  • The book claims that paying for something first and then enjoying it later gives you the feeling that what you're enjoying is "free", which is nice. I personally find myself skeptical of this experience.
  • Apparently, even bad vacations are better expenditures than buying a bigger house. But there are no studies on how small a house you can have before having a bigger house makes you happier just because you're not hitting something every time you turn around.
The book is extremely short. If you're not careful you'll blow through it in a few hours. I do recommend the content in the book if you've not been exposed to it before, but I'd hesitate to spend full price on the book: check it out from the library instead.



Xiaoqin said...

It is for general audience. Also, people from different culture value different things.

Unknown said...

"The book claims that paying for something first and then enjoying it later gives you the feeling that what you're enjoying is "free", which is nice. I personally find myself skeptical of this experience."

Sorry, that doesn't work for me. If I have to take a loan or do something where I KNOW that I have to pay more in the long term, I become very unhappy. This is true with engineering as well. For example managers just want some X Y Z features and don't care about technical debt, but when I'm finally the person tasked to pay back debt with time (miserable time cleaning/fixing stuff that is least appreciated) , I become very unhappy.

However, most people don't feel the way I do. Most people have a lot of tolerance for debt. I guess something must be wrong with me.

Arturo said...

Kevin C.: you got this backwards. It's not enjoying something now and paying for it later (i.e., a loan) is paying for something upfront and then enjoying it later. Examples of these are "all inclusive resorts", "all you can eat buffets", or paying for "unlimited rides" in an amusement park.

In my experience, I've found that in some cases, this improves the experience.. but in others it actually causes stress (as I try to get the "most" value out of what I paid).

Unknown said...

Arturo: ah I gotcha. Well, I don't enjoy paying a huge amount of money upfront and enjoying it, because I never know if I will be able to fully utilize what I paid for. Some examples: 1) I'm a little guy and I don't eat much, so all you can eat buffet makes little financial sense to me 2) I never know if my project will last over a year, so paying 1 year reserved AWS instance may not be worthwhile and I may very well waste money (yes, experienced this in real life at work) 3) My work/family schedule is not consistent, so paying 1 year upfront fee of gym membership makes no sense to me 4) I never know how long I'll stay at a tech company, so buying a home will cause me stress because I will feel trapped by the fewer employment choices I'll have 5) etc etc etc...