I can’t resist concluding this column with some kernels of consumption advice accumulated by the prominent scholars Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert and Timothy D. Wilson. Surveying the vast literature of happiness research, they suggest: Buy experiences instead of things; buy many small pleasures instead of a few big ones; pay now for things you can look forward to and enjoy later.
Call it the medium chill if you like. It all adds up, I might add, to a pretty powerful case against the American obsession with policy nudges to encourage people to take out large loans for the purpose of buying a house. Taking out a big loan to buy a house is pretty much the opposite of experiences over things, many small over one big, and pay now to consume later.
That’s not to say that everything should be reduced to politics and public policy. But one thing public policy does is send signals about how people should live their lives. The presence of a large number of government homeownership plans and total lack of government go to Maine and spend some time wandering around Holbrooke Island State Park programs isn’t just a direct subsidy for one activity over another, it also sends a message about what constitutes a responsible and socially valorized use of one’s scarce resources. But the reality is that at the margin, Americans should invest more in vacations and less in big houses.