Friday, June 28, 2013

Happiness...Rent & Recycle it

This is the final post in a series on happiness, based on the research covered in Sonja Lyubomirsky's book, The Myths of Happiness.  Click here to read the previous posts on Happiness and ThriftDebt, Experiences, and Small Pleasures.

Happy Friday!  Today wraps up the series on happiness with two topics: recycling happiness and renting it.  These were my favorite suggestions from Lyubomirsky's section on thrift, mainly because they challenge the way I typically do things.  Take recycling: if I look around my house, I see a lot of books I've read one time (or none), things that were gifted to me but were never used, and boxes of unknown old stuff that sits around in the garage.  A lot of these are one use items.  But even with too much stuff in my life, much of it unused, I keep buying more of it.  Instead of acquiring new things, wouldn't it be better to go through the things I already own and rediscover them?
As for renting, it seems to have a bad connotation in some circles.  Tell someone you're renting an apartment, and you're likely to hear a cliche about throwing money away.  And why rent a summer cabin for the three weekends you'll actually use it, when you can buy it at three hundred times the price?  Though renting (or sharing) smaller purchases like power tools, lawnmowers, washing machines, or even cars makes a lot of financial sense when you consider how often they all sit idle, our behavior still shows a strong preference for owning these things.  Why is that?  

Let's look at each suggestion separately:

Recycle Happiness
  • Since we are hard wired to seek the new and the varied (note how we are regularly tempted to buy new things), it's likely that we'll always have urges to buy new products and services. Instead of constantly buying new things, we can recycle happiness by being more grateful of the things we already own. (Maybe gratitude Fridays are in order.)  Looking through the things you already own can make an old and forgotten item seem new again.
  • Coming up with new ways to use an existing possession makes the thing itself, new. (Like using your existing phone to download a new podcast series, turning it into a podcast machine...or downloading an app that teaches you Spanish, turning your phone into a very tiny, at-your-beck-and-call tutor.)  
  • Memories are a great way to recycle our past happiness.  Flipping through your photos or popping in a home movie allows us to relive past experiences again.
Rent, Don't Buy, Happiness
  • Our strong preference for purchasing an item rather than renting it is due to a cognitive bias (the Endowment Effect) that causes us to like something more after we buy it.  The endowment effect is why I have so many vehicles (I think).  But considering the beneficial certain rentals have for our bottom line (e.g. - books & DVDs from the library or Redbox rather than Barnes & Noble or Target), is the endowment effect worth the price of owning?  Should we be shopping at Rent-a-Swag?
  • Because we give back rented items after their use, they don't suffer from the diminishing returns of happiness we experience from purchased goods, which stick around indefinitely.  And since they eventually go back to the original owner, rented items don't clutter your house, either.
  • Renting has the built-in ability for variety.  Once you buy the great house on the lake, it's the same house with the same view of the same lake every time you go.  But your rented space can be, and likely is, different over time, better tapping into our desire for variety of experience.  And the rental doesn't come with the hassles (or costs) of maintenance, repairs, taxes, and all the other joys of ownership.
  • A Wharton School of Busineess study showed that with two groups of similar incomes, health, and types of residences, homeowners are no more happy than renters, but instead experience pain from their home and spend less time on enjoyable activities than renters.
So what does this mean for us?

My wife and I are kicking around the idea of owning some rental properties, but perhaps renting our primary residence.  It's a weird idea that I'm more on board with than she is (okay, she hates the idea).  But I think there would be some real benefits. For one, I don't think that the desire for the regularity of rental income means you necessarily have to own the home you live just means you need to own the home you're renting to someone else.  If it's a reasonable idea to have someone else manage your rental properties, care for the rental property's yard, and repair the property (presumably, because your time is worth more than the  money in this case), why doesn't that logic apply to your primary residence?  And the home we live in is, by default, the one we experience most: shouldn't we leverage the psychological research to make sure that experience is the best it can be?  

So far these arguments are falling on deaf ears in the Done by Forty household, but it's early.  Sure, I haven't won an argument yet, but that means I'm due, right?

Some other ideas we are considering:
  • As we continue to shed things every month, we will look hard for items we want to keep but may have forgotten about, and re-experience them.  I know there's an old Gibson and and amp in the garage somewhere...
  • Starting a tool share in the neighborhood, since it's clear that every house does not to have a table saw, lawnmower, etc.  Renting out our existing tools on craigslist, or just offering our neighbors to borrow some things on freecycle, might also be an option.
  • Going completely car-less, using the scooters, and renting a car only when needed.  This is a big swing and the change would take a while to implement.  But since I now work from home and my wife takes the scooter to campus, it's not actually a bad time to implement such a change.  Plus, I kind of like the idea of driving different cars when we go on road trips because, hey, new cars.
So that's the plan for now.  I'm intrigued by all the options we have for our stuff, if only because I think we'll get some new uses and experiences out of the deal.  And if they make us a bit happier in the end, all the better!

*Photo is from lydia shiningbrightly at Flickr Creative Commons.

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