This age old question is doing it's share of popping into conversations and blogs these days. And I am aware that happiness is certainly personal and dynamic. But my husband, who is currently reading "The Ascent of Money" by Niall Ferguson, read a few passages about the paradox of why the people living in the safest country in the world are also the most insured. Ferguson also discusses when English-speaking people began to be obsessed with buying and selling of houses. Both very interesting, and directly related to happiness, I think.
First of all, it has only been in the last few decades that people began to believe that they must own a house to be happy. Before that, people often rented their entire lives, often living in the same place. See New York City. People in Switzerland often never pay off their homes, just passing the mortgage on in their wills to their family. But our country feels that you are just not complete without the "American Dream". With that comes taxes, insurance, upkeep, etc. You are tied to that house and mortgage. And you are tied to that exact location. Believe me, I know what it is like to have a big house on the market during down times. Our last one had three people come through (other than the lookie-lous that came through during the "open house" phase), in 100 days. It was a beautiful home, in a beautiful location. But it was outside the Twin Cities area, and gas was starting to sky rocket. It was not looking good. We lucked out with a man that walked through, loved it, bought it for cash (for his summer home - the rest of the time he lived on a horse ranch in Texas), no contingencies! Great luck. But I can see a very different scenario if we were still there. What I'm trying to get to, is why do people feel compelled to own something that will take so much of their income that it will cause anxiety if circumstances change? Losing your down payment, not to mention your equity, on a house you can no longer afford is a crushing blow. But millions are going through this right now.
Now for insurance. We have to insure everything. Yesterday the person at the checkout counter at a local sport shop wanted my husband to insure his new running shoes for a year. My husband laughed and declined, saying he would not use them for a year. He believes in good running shoes and only uses them a few months - but that's another story. The point is we have to own all this stuff and then insure it. How much of our lives, and money, is just taking care of our stuff? I have always disagreed with friends that bought houses for their children to live in while attending college. Why would you tie your children down to a house during the only free time of their lives? The fun is moving from place to place, fixing it up and making it your home. Lots of good stuff comes from that. Yet the first thing many do is help their children buy a home after graduation. Thus ensuring they will be right there, for a long time. What if they wanted to travel and see the world? Or work overseas? Or take a job across the country? Get a second degree or work in another field that may pay less? Experience life?
So, I guess I would pose the question - do we really think about what makes us happy? Really looking at what makes our day? Or do we assume our happiness must look like a programed set of values that may or may not fit what we actually like to do? And why do we have to own everything? Does it make us happier?