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Widgets or travel? What makes us happier?

Jane Galt stirred up a storm in her comments section with this post on the relative merits of travel as opposed to, say, a 50" plasma flat-screen TV. She plunges right back in, this time calling on Will Wilkinson and happiness guru Daniel Gilbert for backup.

Lord knows I don't practice what she preaches in this department, as anyone surveying my hideously cluttered living room can tell. Still, I tend to agree more with her than with her commenters who froth "Of COURSE there's a difference between a 50" HDTV plasma screen Toshiba and a 19" CRT Samsung! Are you STUPID?" As she stated in her earlier post, if you want to maximize the happiness in your life, you need to figure out what makes you happy and stop spending discretionary income on the things that don't make you that happy. If a car is just a means to an end, then there's not much point going into crushing debt just to get a stylin' Baby Benz or a big-ass Escalade. If you don't care about fashion, stop spending your money on designer labels. This was a big part of the lesson taught by The Millionaires Next Door: many of these folks didn't live lives of ostentation or even try to keep up with the Joneses. Instead, they shopped for bargains and lived fairly simply.

By the same token, having the most bleeding-edge computer system isn't a priority for me, and since my palate was ruined years ago by mess-hall food I don't see much point in going to fancy restaurants where (to update Bill James) the main courses all cost $40 and taste like the oregano was left out. So what should I be saving the money I'd otherwise waste at Caribou on? Well, conventions, for one thing. Going to Anime Detour or Convergence will set me back about half a grand for rooms and food, to say nothing of the membership. Quite a bit of money, though I would argue that the social and related benefits are more than worth it. It's pretty certain that if I spent that much money going off by myself to Vegas or Cancun or some other tourist trap, I wouldn't enjoy it nearly so much.