happymoney.jpgRan across this interesting exercise*: Make a list of the 10 things you have purchased that brought you the greatest happiness. Then make a list of the 10 most expensive purchases in your life. Check for overlap.

Here is one responder’s top 5:

1. House
2. Ph.D.
3. Divorce from first wife
4. Marriage to second wife and honeymoon
5. Children (expect to pop up on both lists as time passes)

Top 5 Expenses = Top 5 Happiness-Makers.

Here’s a second sample. Interesting ranking of kids and guitars on the happiness list and the “lesson” note. But, hey, at least the kids beat out Harvard. And expensive divorce that costs more than a house!

$ List
– kids
– divorce
– house #2
– house #1
– Harvard

:o) List
– guitar #1
– guitar #2
– kids
– Harvard
– many computers
Lesson – buy more guitars.

And here’s a third list: Most expensive: (* = also on most happiness list)
1. Taxes
2. Lifetime of food (* sharing meals with friends)
3. Education (* path of lifetime accomplishment)
4. Wine cellar filled, then emptied. repeat ( * see 2)
5. House *
6. Airplane share
7. Boat
8. Grand piano *
9. Trips around the world
10. Car

When you do the exercise you immediately run into classification issues. Do you pick out individual vacations or do you lump them all into travel? The University of Florida means a lot to me; do I honor individual degrees or put them all under education or under UF? What about things like food, medical care, and taxes? Certainly major expenses, but happiness?

But consider the opposite: starvation, illness, and jail! I decided to consider only discretionary purchases and to pretty much lump things. I found that the overlap between the lists was pretty strong BUT the order was definitely different; some of the least expensive things on my top ten most expensive list topped off my most happiness list.

It was a fascinating exercise, tapping into how good a predictor I am of my own predilections. Do I really know and understand what makes me happy? Am I self aware enough to correctly predict what will make me happy? Or do I chase the proverbial, perpetually “greener grass” on the other side of the fence? Do I get hooked by Madison Avenues marketing campaigns or am I fully self determined?

I would love to hear from anyone and everyone about your lists!

* tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com