I’m re-reading Geoffrey Miller’s books The Mating Mind and Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior, partially for pleasure and partially because some of his ideas might make it into my dissertation. The latter book is worth reading if for nothing other than the exercises he lists at the end, including “The Possessions Exercise:”
List the ten most expensive things (products, services, or experiences) that you have ever paid for (including houses, cars, university degrees, marriage ceremonies, divorce settlements, and taxes). Then, list the ten items that you have ever bought that gave you the most happiness. Count how many items appear on both lists.
(This exercise ought to be conjoined with the reading of Paul Graham’s essay Stuff.)
For many people, I suspect that relatively few items appear on each list, although that might be projection on my own part.
I do a lot of work on my computer, so many of the “bought” items tend to be related to that: an iMac, an Aeron, a Kinesis Advantage. The “university degree” appears on both lists, although I suspect that I often appreciated the experience of being at a university for undergrad as much if not more than the classes I was actually putatively there to take.
The big takeway from Miller’s exercise is obvious: what we really value often isn’t what we pay the most for, but few of us realize that. We overvalue stuff, to use Paul Graham’s phrase, and we undervalue each other, learning, making things, and interpersonal experience.