On The Page: You Can Buy Happiness

I picked up Tammy Strobel’s You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) at the library. I was drawn by the play on “you can’t buy happiness” and figured that if I picked up just one new idea that reading the slim volume (about 200 pages) would be totally worth it.

You Can Buy Happiness relates the story of Strobel’s journey (along with her husband Logan) from a paycheck-to-paycheck corporate job life in California to living a simpler life in a tiny house in Portland, Oregon. The book begins, as does Strobel’s journey to living simpler, by discussing “stuff.”

Discussing how much “stuff” we own is a complicated topic. Depending on my company at any moment, I vacillate between feeling like F and I don’t have any “stuff” at all and feeling like we have entirely too TOO much stuff.  A lot of the book focuses on Strobel and her husband downsizing from a 1,200 square foot apartment full of stuff and to an 800 square foot apartment and finally into their 128 square foot house. Along the way, she examines how “stuff” actually can have a detrimental effect on our happiness

The part I was most interested in was the section on “Buying Happiness.” This section seemed to be the place I would learn how to “buy” happiness (as promised in the title). As expected, it was a purposely-misleading title, however not in a dissatisfying way. “Buying” happiness, according to Strobel, can be accomplished by “investing” in those things actually make us happy: relationships, experiences, community, and appreciating the small things. Remembering that “stuff” and money can’t ever outweigh these things is so incredibly important being reminded never hurts.

Perhaps the best thing about Strobel’s structure of the book was the mixture of personal and interview anecdotes combined with “mini-actions.” The mini-actions found at the end of each chapter were designed to allow the reader to have small, concrete steps towards making their life simpler and happier. Some mini-actions Strobel suggests include the common sense (“eliminate non-essential spending”), others are more thought provoking (“evaluate how much time you spend managing your stuff” and “track your time for a week”).  At first, the mini-actions seemed a bit cheesy to me but the concept grew on me as I read through the book.

Since we structure our life with a focus on so many of the same concepts that Strobel argues for in You Can Buy Happiness. (fewer possessions, less debt, more focus on free time and relationships, etc.), I was surprised that I was left feeling somewhat confused by my reaction to the book. I found myself feeling that while I hadn’t necessarily gone the most radical route possible, that Forrest and I, more or less, are actually practicing a lot of what she’s preaching. It made me wonder where I could go further and try harder.

I would recommend You Can Buy Happiness for anyone looking to start along the path towards a more simplistic life. If you’ve already done some reading on the topic, this book may be a little bit repetitive of the same ideas you’ve read elsewhere (although you may, like me, find going back to basics to be food for thought). If you read You Can Buy Happiness (or already have), give me a shout, I’d love to hear about what you thought!

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