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Consumption Means Happiness—or Does It?

Imagine how much a new car would delight you. We enjoy examining the options—the model, the color, the advantages and disadvantages, speaking to people about it and reading about it on the internet. Finally, the day arrives and we are certain that in a few hours we will be the owners of the car we’ve dreamed of for months--or even years. We are certain that this car will make us happy for at least for the next ten years. Yet, research proves otherwise. In a study titled, “Affective Forecasting,” Professors Timothy D. Wilson and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University write that we have a “...tendency to overestimate the duration of one's future emotional reactions,” [56] and that we “[do] not make very accurate forecasts about their reactions to future events.”

In other words, a new car is not likely to make us happy for the next ten years. Instead, it is quite likely that within six months, possibly less, it will turn from a dream-come-true into another piece of our dreary daily lives. And this will drive us into the next purchase. It is a frustrating vicious cycle, which our social environment encourages.

Renowned expert on Positive Psychology, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, points out, “The problem is that when we achieve the goal we set out for ourselves, the sensation of joy and fulfillment derived from it is transient. We experience a spike in our level of happiness, but soon return to our place prior to obtaining what we wanted, except now we are disappointed, sometimes even lost.” [57]

Further, according to Dr. Ben-Shahar, “We are mistaken to think that if we get a raise or a new car we’ll be happier. That gives us a sense that we have something to look for. However, while ambition and hard work may upgrade us financially, they will not grant us lasting happiness. The sensations of satisfaction and joy are transient.”

The Easterlin Paradox, presented in the previous chapter, is a key concept in the field of happiness economics. Easterlin’s theory proposes that beyond a certain level, economic growth and an increase in the average income do not induce an average increase in the happiness of the population. The effect of income on our happiness is felt when we compare our income to that of others.

[56] Timothy D. Wilson and Daniel T. Gilbert, “Affective Forecasting,” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 35 (USA, Elsevier Science, 2003): 349, 395, url:

[57] Tal Ben Shahar, “Our Happiness Scheme is Wrong, and Then Comes Frustration, Calcalist (April 17, 2011),,7340,L-3515186,00.html

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