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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The economics of happiness

I saw an article in one of my real estate news feeds on this topic a couple of days ago. I was not surprised to read that happiness has little to do with material wealth – money and possessions, especially money. When I Googled that phrase “the economics of happiness” I was a bit surprised to find the large number of scholarly studies, articles and papers that have been done on this topic.

The consensus seemed to be that happiness is very independent of money (money can’t, in fact, buy happiness), once one gets above the subsistence level. I guess it’s harder to be happy if one is starving, cold and homeless, but not impossible. Happiness is more involved with what things you really value – family, faith, health, a sense of safety and well-being, and the environment around you, plus other non-tangible things. Missing from the reports of what makes people truly happy were hoards of possessions and lots of money.

A home was still on the list and it apparently contributes greatly to a sense of well-being and happiness if one has a home of their own – hint: I can help with that aspect. Even within the context of ”home” there is much evidence that the size, cost and elegance of the physical house doesn’t contribute as much to it’s happiness contribution as “home”, so much as other factors, such as fold memories of good times there and feelings of warmth, coziness, security and family that go along with the physical building. So long as it isn’t dangerous or otherwise inhospitable, even the most modest house can evoke strong positive feelings of “home” for most happy people.

We have a saying in real estate that one sells a house but buys a home. That saying really reflects the transfer of the feelings of love and happiness to and from the physical building. Many sellers initially have great difficultly letting go of the physical part of the fond memories that they have for life in the house. That’s what sometimes initially causes them to price it too high. What they don’t understand is that the new owners have yet to weave their own set of emotions and memories into the structure and so don’t have that level of happiness investment in it yet. They might, someday.

It’s that hope for a “home”, that nesting instinct about a house becoming your home that is usually the thing that sells the house. Buyers try to describe it as “fit” – somehow “that last house didn’t fit but this one does.” That “fit” is really them imagining the good times, imagining the happiness and using those images to imagine the house as their home. Call me and let’s turn those thoughts of how nice a home would be into the reality of a new house.

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