Since I have a frugality/minimalism blog, I read a lot about consumption and happiness. The fulfillment curve is something that is often discussed in the frugalsphere. For those of you who aren’t familiar, here’s a basic example of the fulfillment curve:
The basic concept is that up to a point, acquiring comforts and even luxuries can make our lives easier and happier, but once you go past the point of “enough”, people actually become less happy- regardless of how much more money they have.
An oft-quoted study that was publicized in the best-selling book “Your Money or Your Life” showed that study participants who made over $6,000 a month ranked their own happiness significantly lower than people in the study who made $1,500 a month or less.
There are loads of studies about happiness and income, and time after time they prove that more money does not result in a higher quality of life (once basics are met). If we know this to be true, how do so many of us still get caught in the web of over-consumption? I have a theory.
Most people measure themselves against their peers, thus we each have our own concepts of what is a luxury, and what constitutes excess. If everyone in your social circle owns three or four homes, you may consider your two homes to be modest or even necessary. If everyone in your social circle works for minimum wage, you may consider buying the latest iProduct to be ridiculous excess.
Deciding your point of luxury versus excess according to your peer group is a recipe for disaster and unhappiness.
For one thing, it means that as your income increases, you need to buy more and more simply to keep pace with your peers. The funny thing is that most people who are caught in this cycle don’t even realize it. It happens so gradually that they truly believe they don’t care what other’s think- they actually believe they are making consumption choices themselves.
We live in a culture that loves consumption, but we’ve built a convenient taboo around discussing money- I think that needs to stop! I propose we start honestly assessing our spending habits and our ideas about money and consumption.
Here’s a fun game idea. Get together your family or a group of friends, and play my made up game:
LUXURY OR EXCESS?
Steps to Play –
1. Cut up 15 pieces of paper (or use index cards cut in half, etc.) for each person playing. So if three people are playing, cut 45 pieces, etc.
2. 15 pieces of paper makes a set. Each person should write the following items, only one item on each card, so that everyone has a complete set in their own handwriting (of course you can make up your own too!).
A Vacation Home
Decorative Household Items (framed art, vases, etc.)
A Gym Membership
A New BMW
Climate Control (Air Conditioning/Heat)
Designer Clothing Items/Accessories (think a minimum $2k per item)
Designer Piece of Jewelry or Watch (average cost, think: $8,000)
A Safe Place to Live
A Live In Housekeeper/Maid
3. Since we know people are influenced by each other, we will play the game blind. Take a piece of paper with the following four categories/spaces to place cards: Necessity, Comfort, Luxury, Excess. Place it on the table within the reach of all players.
Let’s begin by defining these terms:
Necessity: This category is for things you truly believe you could not live without. These are things necessary for you to live your life.
Comfort: This category is for things you consider to be reasonable comforts, without which your life would be markedly less enjoyable or easy.
Luxury: This category is for items that you consider a luxury. Things you could live without, but that you feel are reasonable for you to purchase because of the value and happiness/ease that they add to your life.
Excess: This category is reserved for items that you consider completely over the top. Things that you feel have basically no believable justification.
4. Now each player should arrange their cards, face down, in the category which they feel the item fits. When everyone is done, turn over the cards one category at a time. They will be in your handwriting, so it’s easy to see who put what where. Now discuss!
If someone placed a card in “Necessity”, they should make a case for their point of view. Then other players should play devil’s advocate, see if you can change their minds if you disagree. The same should happen for the next three categories. The goal is to open up a dialogue, share our true feelings, and offer new insights to each other.
I hope some of you have the opportunity to play this (especially with kids), share your reactions/discussions in the comments!