Do sales make you happy? Why your good bargain high won't last


While reading The Ethical Executive by Robert Hoyk and Paul Hersey, one of the learnings that struck me most was that the happiness gained from very big achievements; such as getting a big raise or financial windfall, for instance; lasts, at most, three to six months. In many cases our happiness has returned to pre-achievement levels after only a few weeks.

So when I read the headline about bargains in today's Wall Street Journal, "Deals Abound, But Which Offer Lasting Delight?" I thought it would be an expose to the truth: delight doesn't last, especially if it's just about saving a few hundred dollars on a flat screen. Karen Blumenthal doesn't really touch on the lastingness of happiness, but more whether or not happiness (beyond the initial thrill of the deal) lasts at all.

According to the experts she consults for the piece, spending time with family and friends makes you far happier than the enormity (or relative price:value) of your material goods. She recommends that you, for instance, buy a home that's closer to work and friends' homes than one that's in a prestigious neighborhood; or a big-screen TV if it allows you to become closer to your children (hers encouraged her college-age daughters to come over and watch the Olympics at her house). I'd take this a little further, encouraging consumers not to buy anything simply for the satisfaction of the savings (even if it's something you actually want), and remind you that all this is just more evidence that shopping doesn't make you happy, not in the long term. Put away your credit cards and play chess with your children; go to a knitting or book group; join a craft circle; or just go for a long walk with someone you love. Your happiness may not always last a long time, but at least it didn't cost you anything.