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Is happiness part of your GDP?

Frugality forces us to look at our priorities

By Teresa Mears Sep 15, 2009 4:16PM

The French president has suggested that economic indicators such as gross domestic product take into account some of a nation's more intangible assets: happiness, leisure time, availability of health care.


France looks pretty good by some of those indicators -- great food, beautiful buildings and countryside, a 35-hour work week and five weeks' paid vacation. Alas, using intangible features such as happiness to calculate economic statistics is probably not practical.


But we think Nicolas Sarkozy has a great point when it comes down to measuring our own personal gross domestic product. Are the things that make us happy really how much we own and how much we produce, or do other intangibles matter more? Does having a granite countertop really make people happier?


Some of us were born to frugality and others have had it thrust upon us, but being careful about how you spend your money forces you to think about what really matters in your life. Before you buy something, you're forced to ask yourself, metaphorically speaking, "Is it worth the calories?"


Our own Donna Freedman and our partner bloggers write often about the links among frugality, simplicity and happiness.


"I used to feel that I deserved to have nice things, that I was entitled to have a new car and a big house and the latest gadgets. I wanted to have what my parents had -- but I wanted it when I was 30 instead of 50. Because my expectations were high, I spent to meet them," J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly wrote. "My high expectations led to lifestyle inflation. I spent more. But I wasn't any happier.


"Once I learned to embrace frugality, I found that I could not only be happy with what I already had -- I could be happy with less.''


Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar went through the exercise of making up a list of what makes him feel good. "Obviously, from this list, one can tell I'm passionate about my family and close friends, reading, writing and food. They bring joy into my life on a daily basis," he wrote. "What things can I do that give me the most opportunity to really enjoy those things?"


Columnist Donna Freedman writes often about how frugality and happiness aren't mutually exclusive and that relationships with friends and family are much more important than things.


"Living well doesn't have to cost a fortune. To me, a "rich" existence is a mundane one, because the world is full of small moments that add up to a life filled with beauty," she wrote.


"I'd rather eat bread and butter with a dear friend than a steak dinner by myself. The satisfaction of that full meal is merely corporeal. When I share simple food with a friend, my soul gets fed, too."


Bring on the spontaneous dinner parties where good friends and family eat pasta with tomato sauce, drink wine from paper cups and talk about what matters.


Has trying to be frugal changed your ideas about what's important? What intangible assets do you include in calculating your personal gross domestic product?


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