Saturday, March 26, 2011

Stumbling on Happiness

I just finished reading an interesting book, Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.  Mr. Gilbert is a Harvard psychologist. His book can get pretty technical as he writes about many different tests that were conducted, analyzing how people think and feel and predicting what makes them happy. The results were sometimes surprising and sometimes they made perfect sense from my own experiences.

We humans are irrational as is proven by the tests. Take this example: If a tremendous deal on a vacation package goes from 300 dollars up to 400 dollars and a not so great vacation package goes from 600 dollars down to 500 dollars, we are more likely to buy the more expensive vacation of less value just because it went down in price than the cheaper, better value, one that went up in price.

Most people would drive across town to save 50 dollars on a hundred dollar item but not think it was worth the effort on a much more expensive item, like a car. Why? It is saving the same amount of money. They are more likely to cut coupons to save a few pennies than save hundreds of dollars on what they are paying someone to handle their financial accounts. They don't want to make the effort to check those prices. Why? 

We want to have choices but if we have too many, we become overwhelmed and don't choose any of them. I have experienced that many times when I have gone to buy something, like a new camera.  We are happier after we make a choice and are committed to it than when we are able to return an object. Seems that after we have decided on something then we only see the good things about it. If we can still return it, then we keep seeing the bad things about it.   So, we want to have choices but they make us nervous and unsatisfied until we have actually made the choice.

Here is something I believe that we all know but tend to forget: After meeting your basic expenses, having more money doesn't necessarily make you happy. Money means a lot when you don't have any and can't meet your basic needs but after that, the value of it in your life goes down significantly. I can see that with the Mexican families here. I watch them having picnics by the lake and having fun. So, where are the wealthy expats? Are they having as much fun? I wonder......

Sometimes larger tragedies are easier to rationalize and make into positive experiences than the small things in life. The small problems aren't worth spending our brain power to try to rationalize and spin into positive experiences. The larger problems are worth the effort. So, as we all know, happiness is an inside job. Example: "I didn't appreciate others nearly as much as I do now." Said by Christopher Reeve after he became paralyzed from the neck down.

"It was a glorious experience." Said by Moreese Bickham, a former inmate, after being released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary where he'd served thirty-seven years for defending himself against the Ku Klux Klansmen who'd shot him.

"I am so much better off physically, financially, mentally, and in almost every other way." Said by Jim Wright, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives after committing sixty-nine violations and being forced to resign in disgrace.

I could go into the many other observations he had but this post is getting too long. If you are interested, I recommend the book.  How do we predict what will make us happy in the future from what we know today? Interesting question and he tries to answer it in his book. One of the things he says is to look at someone who is living the life you want and use that person as an example of what your life might be like in the same circumstance.

Maybe that is where I come in for some people. If they read my blog and see that I can have a happy life here in Mexico, then maybe they can do it too. I hope especially to reach out to single older women who are on limited budgets. I want them to know that yes, this life can be for them too.......


  1. Wonderful post, Patricia. I do, indeed, use your life as a guidepost. I worry about having enough to live on (SS and very small pension - the pension only if I'm able to keep working another five years), and while I know I don't need a lot of "stuff", I do wonder if my SS will be enough as required by Mexico to live there.

    I'm so inspired by you. Thank you again for all you share. When I see your photos they make it all come alive - I can almost smell the flowers, and breathe the air there!

    Bless you.


  2. Hi Barbara, Thank you for writing me. I just put this post on. I really appreciate your blessing. It is good to know that I am of some benefit to others. I live very cheaply here. Patricia

  3. I slogged home through the cold, driving Portland rain early from work one day last week, my arthritic hands nearly gnarled in pain from the cold. I took some Ibupropin & turned on the tv, since I couldn't 'DO' anything else. Oprah was on, discussing what it takes for a person to be happy. Interesting show. I can't remember when last I was really happy. Anyway, many guests, shrinks, etc. said it's not about the money, but about connecting with others. Probably the happiest people had at least once per week when they were 'expected' to be somewhere. A club, a class, a volunteer job, etc. I think that's mainly what keeps me here: the structure of daily working leads me to (often falsely) believe I'm needed. We all need to look for (and commit to) other outlets and social connections. Hopefully I will soon be able to cut these workday ties that bind & live in a warmer climate - I know there are tons of options to participate in volunteer activities in Mexico. And I crave a climate where my hands won't hurt to lift up a margarita!

  4. Thank you for that interesting comment. Not sure if this is Gayle writing or someone else. But thank you.... Come down when you can and warm up. Patricia

  5. Patricia, I've been living here at Lake Chapala ... on the northside of the lake and on the southside ... for about three years. I too am a single woman living on a VERY limited income. In my case, the only income I have is my social security payments of about $750US a month.

    That's nine thousand US a year in income. Over the past three years, I've found that it costs me about $10,000US a year to live here. That includes everything, including the annual expenses for my Mexican visa, my car insurance, and my IMSS [mexican medical insurance].

    Like the original commenter, I too don't need a lot of "stuff." But I can still afford to live a good life here in Mexico. A much better one than I ever could have afforded in the US.

    So, yes, original commenter Barbara, it can be done!

    Another Barbara in Mexico

  6. Hi Barbara, Thank you for your comment. I am sure many people will be encouraged by what you said. I don't spend much more than you do per month. I am surprised you can afford to own a car. I take buses or walk or if I am in a pinch, I take a taxi. Good to know it is possible to have a car and still live cheaply here. Thank you. Patricia

  7. I'm so glad Barbara posted info regarding real dollars. She confirmed it's 'not about the money'. She sounds like she's got her head on straight & would be someone I'd like to know. I'm hoping she might be able to expand a bit on her standard of living? Like, what she does with her days and evenings to enjoy her life there. Does she go to bars, restaurants? Play cards? Sit by a pool & read? Volunteer? Take classes? Interact with Mexicans or expats, predominantly? Does she have a decent social network so that she doesn't feel isolated? Does she live in a 'nice' neighborhood where she knows her neighbors & feels safe? Where does she drive to & why? etc.

    Or perhaps she has her own blogsite, or would care to share a personal email or two?

    From Gayle on another cold, rainy day in PDX... (sorry but my computer won't allow me to post using a URL!)

  8. Hi Gayle, Good to hear from you again. I don't know Barbara or how you can reach her. All I know about her is what you also see, her comment on my blog....Maybe she will read this and let me know more about her, like her e mail address, and I can pass the information along to you. Patricia

  9. I found her blogsite, and she has already responsed via private email. Sounds like an interesting person, and very helpful. I hope the two of you get to meet! GW

  10. That is great Gayle. I would love to have a talk with her one of these days. I am sure I could learn some tricks from her. I can use all the help I can get when it comes to getting along here on little money. Patricia

  11. Hi Patricia ~ I so enjoy your blog and photos & everyone's comments. Interesting reading about the Happiness book and reading how little you & Barbara need to live on! You must both be excellent money managers. Good Night! Carolina

  12. Patricia, i DO have a blogsite. here's the link:

    it's a collaborative blog. i write about mexico and my two coauthors write about their life in montana. check it out.

    and, yes, we should meet sometime and compare money saving tips!

  13. Hi Barbara, I woke up this morning thinking about that and wondering how I could get your information. I will check it out right now. Also, maybe we could trade blog links? Patricia

  14. Hi Carolina, Thank you for reading my blog and writing to me. Yes, I guess I am pretty good at managing money. But that hasn't always been true. That is why I don't have much at this time of my life. I threw a lot of it away when I was younger. But now, necessity forces me to be careful. Patricia

  15. Patricia, i just added a link to your blog on my blog. i'm excited that people may be able to see the differences and similarities between my life at lake chapala and mine, because there are definitely both, even though we only live a few kilometers apart.

  16. Hi Barbara, thank you. I have yours on my blog too. Hope we can meet one of these days. Patricia

  17. And to WHOM do you both owe a lifetime of indebtedness for bringing you two together???!!!

    ha ha ... just kidding. You would have found one another when it was time.

    please: toast a margarita to my name?!!!


  18. Hi Gayle, My friend, you always deserve a toast. Hope to see you again before long, in Portland or Mexico. Patricia

  19. Well I figured it out: only 40 more paychecks until I retire. God but that sounds like a life sentence. Actually, I FEEL like toast! That must be a sure sign one is ready to retire.

    But hey, there are (almost) FLOWERS blooming here in PDX. Godamighty.

  20. Wow that is a lot of pay checks. One a week or every other week? Sounds like a long time..... I am guessing this is Gayle again? Hang in there....Patricia