mardi, août 17, 2010

katie's legacy

I'm registered as an organ donor. My will also specifies that my body be donated to the local medical school. (If I can't make use of my body, it should go to helping someone else's quality of life and advancing science.)
Out of Grief Sprouts a Life-Saving Legacy
August 16, 2010

You don’t have to be rich, famous or even an adult to leave a memorable legacy that can change lives.

Just ask Stacey Oglesby of Lockwood, Mo., whose 15-year-old daughter, Colbey, died in a car accident in 2001. Colbey had told her mother that when she got her driver’s license, she was going to sign up to be an organ donor. So when hospital personnel asked about organ donation, Ms. Oglesby said, “we had no hesitancy.”

Seven people got Colbey’s organs. Her lungs went to Valerie Vandervort, a 29-year-old Oklahoma woman with cystic fibrosis. In the nine years since, Ms. Vandervort has run three 5K races, hiked a mountain, danced at her sister’s wedding, doted on her nieces and nephews, and won medals in swimming at the 2010 National Kidney Foundation United States Transplant Games.

Ms. Oglesby also befriended the recipient of Colbey’s heart, Judy Kaufman of Chesterfield, Mo., who was near death with congestive heart failure. When they met, Ms. Oglesby took a stethoscope to listen to the beat of her daughter’s heart.

Ms. Oglesby, who speaks often about Colbey’s legacy, said she has inspired others to become potential organ donors. If not for donating her daughter’s organs and connecting to the recipients, she said, “it would have been hard to get through the grief.”

A Widespread Need

At any given time in the United States, more than 100,000 people are waiting for donor organs, more than 10 times as many as become available. Some die waiting; others get sicker and sicker, sometimes too ill to survive when a suitable organ finally becomes available.

In addition to kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and intestines, donations can include tissues like corneas, skin, heart valves, bone, veins, cartilage, middle ear, tendons and ligaments that can be stored in tissue banks and used when needed.

Most donations come from people who die suddenly, usually from an accident, a gunshot or a brief illness that resulted in brain death. (A small but growing number of donations follow cardiac death.) Some adults indicate their wish to be donors by signing the back of their driver’s license or a donor card or simply telling their next of kin. For minors, hospital personnel often ask the distraught parents if they would consider donating their child’s organs.

But when 6-year-old Katie Coolican died in 1983 from an undiagnosed heart malformation, it was her mother, Maggie, a nurse, who asked about donating the child’s organs — “to make some sense of it all,” Ms. Coolican, of East Hampton, Conn., said in an interview.

“We were willing to donate anything,” she added, “but at the time all they could use were Katie’s corneas and kidneys.”

Likewise for Julie Schlueter of Winsted, Minn., whose daughter, Missy, 10, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1992: donating the girl’s organs meant her loss was not in vain.

Missy’s liver and one kidney went to a man who four years later won a silver medal in the Summer Olympics in Atlanta; he sent the medal to the Schlueters to thank them for enabling him to live. Two toddlers, one from Italy and the other from Colorado, got Missy’s heart valves. And an Iowa woman, then 47, got her other kidney and is still doing well 18 years later.

Rose D’Acquisto of St. Paul said that donating all her husband’s usable organs “has led to things I’d never imagined.”

Her husband, Tony, died in 1996 at age 35 when an undiagnosed brain tumor hemorrhaged and left him in an irreversible coma. Ms. D’Acquisto said the recipient of his liver — an Indiana man near death with a rare liver disease — had now been married more than 30 years and has three grown children.

And the Minnesota farmer who got one of Tony’s kidneys got his life back; he had spent three years traveling three hours a day three times a week for dialysis.

Ms. D’Acquisto, now remarried, says she continues to write and speak about organ donation as love’s greatest gift. Along with Ms. Schlueter, she was among more than 7,000 people who attended the Transplant Games last month in Madison, Wis.

When Katie Coolican died, there was no follow-up care for families who donate the organs of their loved ones. After a few years of struggling with grief, her mother wrote about her experience in The American Journal of Nursing and began speaking about organ donation all over the country.

She went back to school, got a master’s degree and wrote a booklet, “For Those Who Give and Grieve,” that was published by the National Kidney Foundation. (The foundation also publishes a quarterly newsletter with that title, edited by Ms. D’Acquisto.)

“Katie’s had a wonderful legacy that continues to this day,” Ms. Coolican said. In 1992 she founded the National Donor Family Council for the kidney foundation to help grieving families that donate loved ones’ organs and tissues. The two-year follow-up program she created for families has become a model for organ donation programs throughout the country.

(To read more “gift of life” stories about organ donation, see the Web site org/gift/index.html.)

Who Is Eligible to Give?

Do not rule yourself out as a potential donor because you think you may be too ill or too old. Only a few circumstances, like pervasive infection or active cancer, absolutely preclude organ donation, and there is no age limit. People in their 80s and 90s have been successful donors of certain tissues, as have newborns. But for anyone under 18, a parent or guardian must approve the donation.

Even if a person dies after an illness that precludes organ donation, or if too much time elapsed after death for organs to be viable, there is still the opportunity of whole-body donation to a medical college, where the body can be used in research or to help students learn anatomy.

While it is best to register one’s interest in whole-body donation with a medical school in advance of death, after death it is up to the next of kin to make it happen. You no longer own your body after you die. If this is something you would want for yourself, discuss it with your spouse and children, who must agree with your wishes.

Most religions support organ donation as a charitable act, although some may not condone whole-body donation. Check the Web site and click on “Religious Views on Donation” for guidance.

lundi, août 16, 2010

samedi, août 14, 2010

women's rights by a hair

My Favorite August
August 13, 2010

The story in American history I most like to tell is the one about how women got the right to vote 90 years ago this month. It has everything. Adventure! Suspense! Treachery! Drunken legislators!

But, first, there was a 70-year slog.

Which is really the important part. We always need to remember that behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time.

That great suffragist and excellent counter, Carrie Chapman Catt, estimated that the struggle had involved 56 referendum campaigns directed at male voters, plus “480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters, 47 campaigns to get constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks, 30 campaigns to get presidential party campaigns to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.”

And you thought health care reform was a drawn-out battle.

The great, thundering roadblock to progress was — wait for the surprise — the U.S. Senate. All through the last part of the 19th century and into the 20th, attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution ran up against a wall of conservative Southern senators.

So the women decided to win the vote by amending every single state constitution, one by one.

There were five referenda in South Dakota alone. Susan B. Anthony spent more time there than a wheat farmer. But she never lost hope. The great day was coming, she promised: “It’s coming sooner than most people think.” I love this remark even more because she made it in 1895.

Sometimes I fantasize about traveling back through time and telling my historical heroes and heroines how well things worked out in the end. I particularly enjoy the part where I find Vincent van Gogh and inform him that one of the unsold paintings piled up over in the corner will eventually go for $80 million. But I never imagine telling Susan B. Anthony how well American women are doing in the 21st century because her faith in her country and her cause was so strong that she wouldn’t be surprised.

The constitutional amendment that finally did pass Congress bore Anthony’s name. It came up before the House of Representatives in 1918 with the two-thirds votes needed for passage barely within reach. One congressman who had been in the hospital for six months had himself carted to the floor so he could support suffrage. Another, who had just broken his shoulder, refused to have it set for fear he’d be too late to be counted. Representative Frederick Hicks of New York had been at the bedside of his dying wife but left at her urging to support the cause. He provided the final, crucial vote, and then returned home for her funeral.

The Senate failed to follow suit. But Woodrow Wilson, a president who had the winning quality of being very vulnerable to nagging by women, pushed the amendment through the next year. The states started ratifying. Then things stalled just one state short of success.

Ninety years ago this month, all eyes turned to Tennessee, the only state yet to ratify with its Legislature still in session. The resolution sailed through the Tennessee Senate. As it moved on to the House, the most vigorous opposition came from the liquor industry, which was pretty sure that if women got the vote, they’d use it to pass Prohibition. Distillery lobbyists came to fight, bearing samples.

“Both suffrage and anti-suffrage men were reeling through the hall in an advanced state of intoxication,” Carrie Catt reported.

The women and their allies knew they had a one-vote margin of support in the House. Then the speaker, whom they had counted on as a “yes,” changed his mind.

(I love this moment. Women’s suffrage is tied to the railroad track and the train is bearing down fast when suddenly. ...)

Suddenly, Harry Burn, the youngest member of the House, a 24-year-old “no” vote from East Tennessee, got up and announced that he had received a letter from his mother telling him to “be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt.”

“I know that a mother’s advice is always the safest for a boy to follow,” Burn said, switching sides.

We celebrate Women’s Suffrage Day on Aug. 26, which is when the amendment officially became part of the Constitution. But I like Aug. 18, which is the day that Harry Burn jumped up in the Tennessee Legislature, waving his mom’s note from home. I told the story once in Atlanta, and a woman in the audience said that when she was visiting her relatives in East Tennessee, she had gone to put a yellow rose on Harry Burn’s grave.

I got a little teary.

“Well, actually,” she added, “it was because I couldn’t find his mother.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 14, 2010

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the House of Representatives was composed of only men in 1918. Jeannette Rankin, a female representative from Montana, served from 1917 to 1919.

lundi, août 09, 2010

the great typo hunt

It's always encouraging to learn that others also suffer from Corrective Tourette's.
A Man, A Plan And A Sharpie: 'The Great Typo Hunt'
August 9, 2010

Incensed by a "no tresspassing" sign, Jeff Deck launched a cross-country trip to right grammatical wrongs.

He enlisted a friend, Benjamin D. Herson, and together they got to work erasing errant quotation marks, rectifying misspellings and cutting unnecessary possessive apostrophes.

The Great Typo Hunt is the story of their crusade.

In 2 1/2 months, Herson and Deck traveled the perimeter of the country, exploring towns and cities in search of typos. They found 437 typos, and were able to correct more than half of them.

Some typos were uncorrectable — out of the team's reach, or, as Deck tells NPR's Tony Cox, requiring tools and materials that weren't included in his "typo correction kit."

Deck carried a variety of Sharpies, of which "the black Sharpie was the most important." Deck also carried Wite-Out, dry erase markers, chalk, crayons and pens.

Sometimes Deck and Herson couldn't get permission from the typo-maker to make an adjustment to the signage. "They would turn us down, or they'd be apathetic about it," says Deck.

"Or they'd say 'Oh, we'll fix that one later,' and we'd really have to take their word on that."

Though people predicted Deck would find more typos in some regions of the country than others, in fact, "everyone really does make mistakes," he says. "We would find them wherever we went."

They did find, however, that local businesses tended to need more typo help. Corporate chain stores and signage usually didn't need as much editing.

dimanche, août 08, 2010

less stuff = more joy

Yesterday, I asked my brother-sin-law to tell me more about his new girlfriend. A few minutes into the conversation, I asked how she likes to spend her time and her money. I explained that the answer to both questions usually tells me a great deal about one's values, because time is something one never gets back and money is usually valuable to the spender.

I then explained that my free time and money tend to go to travel, photography, and good food/ drink. In short, I look for experiences, rather than things. Still, I have far more stuff than I need, despite routinely donating as much as possible to keep my stuff in check. Although we tend to use a great deal of used and second-hand items (especially with all the baby gear), I'm wondering if we can pull off the hundred things or less at this point. Maybe it's time for another housecleaning, and a serious conversation about what we can get rid of in order to make space for the more important experiences in life.
But Will It Make You Happy?
Published: August 7, 2010

SHE had so much.

A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people.

Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”

So one day she stepped off.

Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number.

Her mother called her crazy.

Today, three years after Ms. Strobel and Mr. Smith began downsizing, they live in Portland, Ore., in a spare, 400-square-foot studio with a nice-sized kitchen. Mr. Smith is completing a doctorate in physiology; Ms. Strobel happily works from home as a Web designer and freelance writer. She owns four plates, three pairs of shoes and two pots. With Mr. Smith in his final weeks of school, Ms. Strobel’s income of about $24,000 a year covers their bills. They are still car-free but have bikes. One other thing they no longer have: $30,000 of debt.

Ms. Strobel’s mother is impressed. Now the couple have money to travel and to contribute to the education funds of nieces and nephews. And because their debt is paid off, Ms. Strobel works fewer hours, giving her time to be outdoors, and to volunteer, which she does about four hours a week for a nonprofit outreach program called Living Yoga.

“The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false,” she says. “I really believe that the acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness.”

While Ms. Strobel and her husband overhauled their spending habits before the recession, legions of other consumers have since had to reconsider their own lifestyles, bringing a major shift in the nation’s consumption patterns.

“We’re moving from a conspicuous consumption — which is ‘buy without regard’ — to a calculated consumption,” says Marshal Cohen, an analyst at the NPD Group, the retailing research and consulting firm.

Amid weak job and housing markets, consumers are saving more and spending less than they have in decades, and industry professionals expect that trend to continue. Consumers saved 6.4 percent of their after-tax income in June, according to a new government report. Before the recession, the rate was 1 to 2 percent for many years. In June, consumer spending and personal incomes were essentially flat compared with May, suggesting that the American economy, as dependent as it is on shoppers opening their wallets and purses, isn’t likely to rebound anytime soon.

On the bright side, the practices that consumers have adopted in response to the economic crisis ultimately could — as a raft of new research suggests — make them happier. New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses.

If consumers end up sticking with their newfound spending habits, some tactics that retailers and marketers began deploying during the recession could become lasting business strategies. Among those strategies are proffering merchandise that makes being at home more entertaining and trying to make consumers feel special by giving them access to exclusive events and more personal customer service.

While the current round of stinginess may simply be a response to the economic downturn, some analysts say consumers may also be permanently adjusting their spending based on what they’ve discovered about what truly makes them happy or fulfilled.

“This actually is a topic that hasn’t been researched very much until recently,” says Elizabeth W. Dunn, an associate professor in the psychology department at the University of British Columbia, who is at the forefront of research on consumption and happiness. “There’s massive literature on income and happiness. It’s amazing how little there is on how to spend your money.”

CONSPICUOUS consumption has been an object of fascination going back at least as far as 1899, when the economist Thorstein Veblen published “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” a book that analyzed, in part, how people spent their money in order to demonstrate their social status.

And it’s been a truism for eons that extra cash always makes life a little easier. Studies over the last few decades have shown that money, up to a certain point, makes people happier because it lets them meet basic needs. The latest round of research is, for lack of a better term, all about emotional efficiency: how to reap the most happiness for your dollar.

So just where does happiness reside for consumers? Scholars and researchers haven’t determined whether Armani will put a bigger smile on your face than Dolce & Gabbana. But they have found that our types of purchases, their size and frequency, and even the timing of the spending all affect long-term happiness.

One major finding is that spending money for an experience — concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in Monaco — produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff.

“ ‘It’s better to go on a vacation than buy a new couch’ is basically the idea,” says Professor Dunn, summing up research by two fellow psychologists, Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich. Her own take on the subject is in a paper she wrote with colleagues at Harvard and the University of Virginia: “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right.” (The Journal of Consumer Psychology plans to publish it in a coming issue.)

Thomas DeLeire, an associate professor of public affairs, population, health and economics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, recently published research examining nine major categories of consumption. He discovered that the only category to be positively related to happiness was leisure: vacations, entertainment, sports and equipment like golf clubs and fishing poles.

Using data from a study by the National Institute on Aging, Professor DeLeire compared the happiness derived from different levels of spending to the happiness people get from being married. (Studies have shown that marriage increases happiness.)

“A $20,000 increase in spending on leisure was roughly equivalent to the happiness boost one gets from marriage,” he said, adding that spending on leisure activities appeared to make people less lonely and increased their interactions with others.

According to retailers and analysts, consumers have gravitated more toward experiences than possessions over the last couple of years, opting to use their extra cash for nights at home with family, watching movies and playing games — or for “staycations” in the backyard. Many retailing professionals think this is not a fad, but rather “the new normal.”

“I think many of these changes are permanent changes,” says Jennifer Black, president of the retailing research company Jennifer Black & Associates and a member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors in Oregon. “I think people are realizing they don’t need what they had. They’re more interested in creating memories.”

She largely attributes this to baby boomers’ continuing concerns about the job market and their ability to send their children to college. While they will still spend, they will spend less, she said, having reset their priorities.

While it is unlikely that most consumers will downsize as much as Ms. Strobel did, many have been, well, happily surprised by the pleasures of living a little more simply. The Boston Consulting Group said in a June report that recession anxiety had prompted a “back-to-basics movement,” with things like home and family increasing in importance over the last two years, while things like luxury and status have declined.

“There’s been an emotional rebirth connected to acquiring things that’s really come out of this recession,” says Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of WSL Strategic Retail, a marketing consulting firm that works with manufacturers and retailers. “We hear people talking about the desire not to lose that — that connection, the moment, the family, the experience.”

Current research suggests that, unlike consumption of material goods, spending on leisure and services typically strengthens social bonds, which in turn helps amplify happiness. (Academics are already in broad agreement that there is a strong correlation between the quality of people’s relationships and their happiness; hence, anything that promotes stronger social bonds has a good chance of making us feel all warm and fuzzy.)

And the creation of complex, sophisticated relationships is a rare thing in the world. As Professor Dunn and her colleagues Daniel T. Gilbert and Timothy D. Wilson point out in their forthcoming paper, only termites, naked mole rats and certain insects like ants and bees construct social networks as complex as those of human beings. In that elite little club, humans are the only ones who shop.

AT the height of the recession in 2008, Wal-Mart Stores realized that consumers were “cocooning” — vacationing in their yards, eating more dinners at home, organizing family game nights. So it responded by grouping items in its stores that would turn any den into an at-home movie theater or transform a backyard into a slice of the Catskills. Wal-Mart wasn’t just selling barbecues and board games. It was selling experiences.

“We spend a lot of time listening to our customers,” says Amy Lester, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, “and know that they have a set amount to spend and need to juggle to meet that amount.”

One reason that paying for experiences gives us longer-lasting happiness is that we can reminisce about them, researchers say. That’s true for even the most middling of experiences. That trip to Rome during which you waited in endless lines, broke your camera and argued with your spouse will typically be airbrushed with “rosy recollection,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Professor Lyubomirsky has a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct research on the possibility of permanently increasing happiness. “Trips aren’t all perfect,” she notes, “but we remember them as perfect.”

Another reason that scholars contend that experiences provide a bigger pop than things is that they can’t be absorbed in one gulp — it takes more time to adapt to them and engage with them than it does to put on a new leather jacket or turn on that shiny flat-screen TV.

“We buy a new house, we get accustomed to it,” says Professor Lyubomirsky, who studies what psychologists call “hedonic adaptation,” a phenomenon in which people quickly become used to changes, great or terrible, in order to maintain a stable level of happiness.

Over time, that means the buzz from a new purchase is pushed toward the emotional norm.

“We stop getting pleasure from it,” she says.

And then, of course, we buy new things.

When Ed Diener, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois and a former president of the International Positive Psychology Association — which promotes the study of what lets people lead fulfilling lives — was house-hunting with his wife, they saw several homes with features they liked.

But unlike couples who choose a house because of its open floor plan, fancy kitchens, great light, or spacious bedrooms, Professor Diener arrived at his decision after considering hedonic-adaptation research.

“One home was close to hiking trails, making going hiking very easy,” he said in an e-mail. “Thinking about the research, I argued that the hiking trails could be a factor contributing to our happiness, and we should worry less about things like how pretty the kitchen floor is or whether the sinks are fancy. We bought the home near the hiking trail and it has been great, and we haven’t tired of this feature because we take a walk four or five days a week.”

Scholars have discovered that one way consumers combat hedonic adaptation is to buy many small pleasures instead of one big one. Instead of a new Jaguar, Professor Lyubomirsky advises, buy a massage once a week, have lots of fresh flowers delivered and make phone calls to friends in Europe. Instead of a two-week long vacation, take a few three-day weekends.

“We do adapt to the little things,” she says, “but because there’s so many, it will take longer.”

BEFORE credit cards and cellphones enabled consumers to have almost anything they wanted at any time, the experience of shopping was richer, says Ms. Liebmann of WSL Strategic Retail. “You saved for it, you anticipated it,” she says.

In other words, waiting for something and working hard to get it made it feel more valuable and more stimulating.

In fact, scholars have found that anticipation increases happiness. Considering buying an iPad? You might want to think about it as long as possible before taking one home. Likewise about a Caribbean escape: you’ll get more pleasure if you book a flight in advance than if you book it at the last minute.

Once upon a time, with roots that go back to medieval marketplaces featuring stalls that functioned as stores, shopping offered a way to connect socially, as Ms. Liebmann and others have pointed out. But over the last decade, retailing came to be about one thing: unbridled acquisition, epitomized by big-box stores where the mantra was “stack ’em high and let ’em fly” and online transactions that required no social interaction at all — you didn’t even have to leave your home.

The recession, however, may force retailers to become reacquainted with shopping’s historical roots.

“I think there’s a real opportunity in retail to be able to romance the experience again,” says Ms. Liebmann. “Retailers are going to have to work very hard to create that emotional feeling again. And it can’t just be ‘Here’s another thing to buy.’ It has to have a real sense of experience to it.”

Industry professionals say they have difficulty identifying any retailer that is managing to do this well today, with one notable exception: Apple, which offers an interactive retail experience, including classes.

Marie Driscoll, head of the retailing group at Standard & Poor’s, says chains have to adapt to new consumer preferences by offering better service, special events and access to designers. Analysts at the Boston Consulting Group advise that companies offer more affordable indulgences, like video games that provide an at-home workout for far less than the cost of a gym membership.

Mr. Cohen of the NPD Group says some companies are doing this. Best Buy is promoting its Geek Squad, promising shoppers before they buy that complicated electronic thingamajig that its employees will hold their hands through the installation process and beyond.

“Nowadays with the economic climate, customers definitely are going for a quality experience,” says Nick DeVita, a home entertainment adviser with the Geek Squad. “If they’re going to spend their money, they want to make sure it’s for the right thing, the right service.”

With competition for consumer dollars fiercer than it’s been in decades, retailers have had to make the shopping experience more compelling. Mr. Cohen says automakers are offering 30-day test drives, while some clothing stores are promising free personal shoppers. Malls are providing day care while parents shop. Even on the Web, retailers are connecting on customers on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, hoping to win their loyalty by offering discounts and invitations to special events.

FOR the last four years, Roko Belic, a Los Angeles filmmaker, has been traveling the world making a documentary called “Happy.” Since beginning work on the film, he has moved to a beach in Malibu from his house in the San Francisco suburbs.

San Francisco was nice, but he couldn’t surf there.

“I moved to a trailer park,” says Mr. Belic, “which is the first real community that I’ve lived in in my life.” Now he surfs three or four times a week. “It definitely has made me happier,” he says. “The things we are trained to think make us happy, like having a new car every couple of years and buying the latest fashions, don’t make us happy.”

Mr. Belic says his documentary shows that “the one single trait that’s common among every single person who is happy is strong relationships.”

Buying luxury goods, conversely, tends to be an endless cycle of one-upmanship, in which the neighbors have a fancy new car and — bingo! — now you want one, too, scholars say. A study published in June in Psychological Science by Ms. Dunn and others found that wealth interfered with people’s ability to savor positive emotions and experiences, because having an embarrassment of riches reduced the ability to reap enjoyment from life’s smaller everyday pleasures, like eating a chocolate bar.

Alternatively, spending money on an event, like camping or a wine tasting with friends, leaves people less likely to compare their experiences with those of others — and, therefore, happier.

Of course, some fashion lovers beg to differ. For many people, clothes will never be more than utilitarian. But for a certain segment of the population, clothes are an art form, a means of self-expression, a way for families to pass down memories through generations. For them, studies concluding that people eventually stop deriving pleasure from material things don’t ring true.

“No way,” says Hayley Corwick, who writes the popular fashion blog Madison Avenue Spy. “I could pull out things from my closet that I bought when I was 17 that I still love.”

She rejects the idea that happiness has to be an either-or proposition. Some days, you want a trip, she says; other days, you want a Tom Ford handbag.

MS. STROBEL — our heroine who moved into the 400-square foot apartment — is now an advocate of simple living, writing in her spare time about her own life choices at

“My lifestyle now would not be possible if I still had a huge two-bedroom apartment filled to the gills with stuff, two cars, and 30 grand in debt,” she says.

“Give away some of your stuff,” she advises. “See how it feels.”


"I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity." -Eleanor Roosevelt