Life hacks for avoiding tempation


I have been following a blogger called Mr Money Mustache (MMM) for a while.  I have written about him before (here).  He fascinates me.  He essentially started the FIRE movement - Finally Independent, Retire Early - which has attracted a real following online.  The movement is about getting down to the bare bones of spending and saving 50%, 60% or even 70% of your salary.  You don't have to do that for very long to be able to retire.  It's extreme in some ways and definitely doesn't appeal to everyone, but there is something in it for sure (after all, philosophers have for hundreds of years known that having money and things won't automatically lead to lasting happiness).  

In his recent blog, MMM talks about hedonic adaptation (the article is really worth reading, and the comments are interesting too..).  This is a real thing, backed up by science.  Hedonic adaptation is the tendency for humans to return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major life events or changes, either positive or negative.  When it comes to money it goes like buy something new or upgrade your life and you get a bump in happiness.  But the bump is temporary.  When the excitement wears off, your overall life happiness returns to exactly where it was before.  Think about the last big new shiny fancy thing you bought yourself.  Does it still excite you the way it did when you first got it?  Do you even look after it the same way you did when you first got it?  Are you now thinking about the next big new shiny fancy thing you can buy in order to feel that excitement again?  If yes, you are on the hedonic treadmill (running fast, working hard, but finding that when it comes to your happiness you are going nowhere).  It's easy to get on....harder to get off.

From Carl Richards

In this article, MMM has some life hacks for avoiding the temptation of 'shiny but useless upgrades' (his words).  Here they are with my comments added.

  • Consider each potential change (whether it is a purchase, a trip, or a lunch out at a restaurant) from the perspective of one year in the future. How much better will your life be in oneyear, if you make this decision right now? GL: I talk a lot about being conscious around what you spend and I love this as a thought process.
  • Delay everything and space it out as much as possible. The anticipation of a treat often provides at least as much joy as the consummation. Simply doubling your waiting period will cut your spending on this stuff in half.  GL: This has been shown to be true of taking a holiday (read about it here) - the planning and anticipation of a trip can make us happier than the trip itself.  Our family have taken this to extreme in our anticipation of a new boat.  Our close friends will laugh reading this as we have regularly announced over a drink at Kaibo that we are buying a new boat.  But we still haven't actually done it (we will).  The anticipation of it has definitely given us joy (and lots to talk about) and when we get it, it is going to feel SO good!
  • By cutting your upgrades into smaller pieces (as I did with the piecemeal home construction), you get to experience the thrill more often.  GL:  I can attest to this with our home renovation which we started five years ago (and is still not finished).  I get so much joy from each little project - most recently my daughters room (the boys room is next).  This concept and blog by MMM really got me thinking about the the trend in Cayman for building a house from scratch and furnishing it in one weekend in Miami.  What, as individuals and as a society, are we missing out on here?  There is one (temporary) bump in happiness when the house is completed, but the thrill is compressed into a relatively short period of time.  Once the thrill fades, according to hedonic adaptation, we look for the next kick.  Houses on this little island certainly do seem to be getting bigger and bigger...  
  • Put your priority on upgrades that remove a strong daily negative or a barrier to happiness. For example, upgrading from a 2009 to a 2018 BMW will very likely not make you happier, but upgrading a barely-functional bike or shitty kitchen faucet to a to a good one you use daily can make a real difference.  GL: Spending money to take out a stress in your life will make you happier, whether that is upgrading something that irritates you, or by out-sourcing something that you don't enjoy doing (cleaning the house for example).
  • Find ways to modify each potential upgrade so that it presses more of your happiness buttons (see below for MMM's happiness buttons). Make it more challenging, do things that require you to learn or accomplish something first, choose things that allow you to create or strengthen friendships, and choose the healthier options out of any alternatives you are given.  GL: we are currently upgrading our dock, but my handy husband is doing it all himself.  He is challenging himself, is learning, and is getting a great sense of accomplishment.  When it's finished I know he will get a much greater level of joy from it than if he has paid someone else to do it.
  • Use your temptation to buy or consume new things as a habit trigger: catch yourself in the moment of weakness (because this happens automatically and frequently), and use this to do something good for you instead. For example, every time I walk by my fridge and gaze longingly at the handle, thinking of pulling out a cold beer, I am reminded to go out to my back patio and do 100 pushups instead. In really disciplined times (like the last few months for me), I back this up by also not keeping any beer in the house. But even if the end result is a bubbly reward, I have improved the reward bump by packaging in a permanent benefit (fitness) with the otherwise very short term reward of a drink.  GL: I like this concept, but am just not sure if my life would be that much better if I did 100 push-ups before having a glass of wine.  I will defer to Virginia Czarnocki for advice on this one...
  • And finally, keep a list of your top life priorities on your fridge door, or your work computer monitor, or somewhere else that you see it many times per day.  Stuff like better friendships, better parenting, health, financial independence, happiness, personal growth. Looking at this list before you decide to do anything – whether it’s planning a lunch or moving to a new house, can serve as a surprisingly powerful anchor to help you fine tune your happiness bumps – stretching out the good parts and eliminating the hangovers.

MMM's Happiness Buttons:


What do you think?  Do you agree with MMM?