The American Dream is something that, for many of us, feels ingrained in our very being. Our culture has told us, since the inception of this country, that we can have anything and everything ¬ if we put our noses to the grindstone and work hard. Societal pressure tells us from an early age how important it is to get married, buy a house, and have 2.5 kids, et cetera. It’s swift and easy getting swept up in feelings of “Once I get this _____, my life will be better and happier.” We all have the desire to fit in and be not only normal, but greatly successful. Scoring that job promotion, buying a dream car, acing that test, and, for many, achieving the dream of buying your own home. So if your American Dream includes a home behind a white picket fence, how do you know living in one will make you happy?
Whether you live in New York City or Spokane, Washington, the decision to purchase a home is most likely the single biggest financial commitment you will make in your lifetime. Not only is buying a home an enormous financial investment, but it is also considered an important step on the ladder to personal fulfillment and long-term financial security. But it is also a choice that, even though it may seem completely unrelated to your health and happiness, will dramatically impact the way you live your daily life, both mentally and physically.
When looking into the connection between happiness and homeownership, it is important to analyze if any variables create a correlation between the two. On one hand, as Americans, we love chasing goals and accomplishing tasks – but all of that is cheerily pointless when it comes to real-life happiness. Pinning our personal happiness to the receiving of a material thing (whether it’s a bigger house, latest gadget, or trendy Prada purse) will always short-lived because as soon as you get it, you move onto to “next thing”. It’s a hedonistic treadmill in which the carrot of happiness is always just out of reach. After all, the saying, “Money can’t buy you happiness” isn’t a common saying for no reason!
Therefore, if money can’t buy happiness, if you are considering buying a new home, it is important to take a deeper look into your motives for wanting to own a home. How are you investing in your personal fulfillment and happiness with the purchase of this home? Are you creating space to make room for a family? Being closer to a highly rated school for your children? Or perhaps it is a beautiful home in a coveted neighborhood?
“Like any possession, [a home’s] impact on happiness diminishes over time,” said Ravi Dhar, a psychology professor and the director of the Center for Customer Insight at Yale School of Management. Citing a theory widely held by happiness researchers called hedonic adaptation, he said, “things give us more joy when they are first acquired than over time, as we adapt to them.” (Higgins)
Attaching your happiness hopes on location and physical characteristics (oak floors, a fabulous view, a certain number of bedrooms, etc.), over time, will not have much bearing on your overall happiness. Therefore, give yourself some tough love and really try to be honest with yourself before you commit to a purchase – as if your future happiness depends on it.
If we are the masters and creators of our own happiness, homeownership can mean much more than granite countertops or having a larger home than most. Your possessions mean nothing compared to how content you are in the ways you choose to live your life. The key ingredient to living a more meaningful and successful life lies not in what we have, but the experiences we choose to cultivate. If that includes investing in a new home, make sure that you are able to carefully craft a balance between a space you enjoy and the life you want to live.
Sarah Carlson, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®
Bond, Casey. “Why The American Dream No Longer Includes Home Ownership For Many Millennials.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 22 June 2018, www.huffpost.com/entry/american-dream-home-ownership_n_5b2c5736e4b00295f15ae32a.
Higgins, Michelle. “Homeownership, the Key to Happiness?” New York Times, 12 July 2013, www.nytimes.com/homeownership-the-key-to-happiness.