Money, we are told, can't buy us happiness. (The standard Snide Response is "Well, no, but it can rent it," no less arguable a premise, but closer to approximating some people's concept of happiness.)

Happiness, however, is difficult to quantify on any basis beyond the purely individual, as Will Wilkinson might have said:

My ideal commute is about zero minutes. I think my optimal happiness balance would have me work from home in a quiet, rural location (the studies are unequivocal in showing country as less anxiety inducing than town — and, anyway, I am not at heart city folk) and then, maybe once every other month, spend a week in Washington DC or New York City or some such place maintaining a high-status instititutional affiliation and high social capital urban social network. And then I could go back home to the quiet and the dogs and the good warm people of Meadow Junction (with a sack of gourmet groceries from the city). This is, of course, the sort of thing you need some money to do. (House in the country, apartment in the city....)

And that's precisely how money makes you happy: by financing an otherwise infeasible happiness-producing lifestyle. You know, I would also get a personal trainer who would ensure that I exercised more, and take more Yoga classes, if I could afford them. And this would very likely give me a happiness bump, too. Of course, money per se doesn't do much for you (except insofar as simply having money produces a sense of higher status), and you can spend it in ways that will make you miserable. But not having more money certainly rules out doing more stuff that could make you happier. It's the consumption pattern that matters. If the better patterns are available with more money, then money matters.

Which suggested a question, which he was good enough to ask in his next paragraph:

Do you think your hedonically optimal consumption pattern is available to you at your current income? If you think not, what do you think the probability is that you are wrong? (Keep in mind, the higher your income, the higher the probability that you are wrong!)

Perhaps for the first time in my life, I live in a place where the perceived advantages outweigh the perceived disadvantages. Since I'm not behind on the mortgage or anything, and since I haven't had to juggle the books every month to retain that status, to that extent I have sufficient income to maintain a baseline level of satisfaction. I suppose it might be nice to live in a spiffier location, but this particular home, while smallish, is about as large as I'm able to maintain and still allow myself a modicum of utter laziness, and its location, if perhaps unhip, is convenient for most things I do. (It's slightly less than eleven miles from work, which seems like a lot, considering I used to live at about one-third that distance, but assuming no unusual traffic difficulties, I can generally make the trip in twenty minutes or less, which is slightly better than average for Oklahoma City commuters.)

I do regret not stashing away more for the future, but if I've done the math correctly, it is ultimately better for one's bottom line to get rid of interest being paid at ten to twenty percent than to earn five to seven percent. If I could eliminate debt service, other than the mortgage, as a standard budget item, I could easily afford to triple my savings with no discernible effect on my, um, "lifestyle."

And "lifestyle" is in quotes because frankly I don't know if I really have one, or if what I have should be described as one. Work, and transit between home and work, occupies about fifty hours a week; sleeping, to the extent I get any sleep, takes up fifty more. In between, I shop, I read, I drive around and look at things, I go to a ball game or a stage play, or I work in the yard, and in between those things, I'm probably in front of the computer.

One thing, however, is for sure: this schedule, and this budget, are intended for a single person with no love life. In the unlikely event that I might actually start dating, all bets are off, and probably so is my accounting.

The Vent

  20 February 2006

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 Copyright © 2006 by Charles G. Hill