The Smallest Car

Let's rethink what it takes to make us happy

Here’s something you’ve never heard anybody say:

I just got a raise, so I decided to go ahead and sign up for a more expensive mobile phone plan!

Paying more for no benefit makes no sense, and it doesn’t take a degree in economics to see this.

But replace a more expensive phone plan by a more expensive car or house, and suddenly not only does this logic makes total sense, it’s the foundational principle behind our entire pursuit of happiness.

Of course, unlike a pricey phone plan, bigger houses and nicer cars do provide clear benefits. They also have hidden costs and externalities though, not only for us but also for the environment.

So maybe we’ve been looking at it all wrong all this time. Instead of buying the biggest car we can afford, maybe we should get the smallest one we can tolerate. Instead of trying to earn as much money as we can, maybe we should try and minimize our expenses until we can get by on as little as possible.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for happiness. Instead, it’s more about redefining what happiness means in the first place. We value fuel-efficient cars, so why not value resource-efficient lives as well?

This wouldn’t change much in practice for the vast chunk of human beings on this planet who have yet to fulfill all their basic needs, let alone engage in excessive consumption.

But for those of us who have long gone past this equilibrium point, maybe it’s worth backtracking a little bit, instead of pushing forward on an increasingly bumpy road.