Posted by: Martin | September 15, 2010

Minimalism

Big questions

Staying with people living on a couple of dollars a day makes it easy to think about almost philosophical questions such as what really makes one happy or as asked on Freestyle Mind: “What would you do all day if you wouldn’t have to worry about money or other things?”

In the New York Times there was recently an excellent article called But Will It Make You Happy about people simplifying their lives, reducing their posessions to 100 items, having more free time, and we hope, becoming happier in the process.

The article mentions research on 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.

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.)

100 Items

All of this makes a lot of intuitive sense to me, I have always kind of chosen spending money on travels and experiences instead of on the latest surround sound system.  After reading the New York Times article, I actually counted every single item I owned back in Europe and came to a result of 378, whereof about 170 were books.    With a kindle and throwing away unused clothes I might get close to (the very arbitrary) 100 items.  Guess it’s my engineer’s mind that just enjoys quantifying things…

Couple-of-dollars-a-day lifstyle with extras

Starting from the other end, at couple of dollars a day lifestyle, I’ve been thinking what needs to be added in terms of material stuff and comfort for me to seriously consider such a life in West Africa. Here it goes:

  • As noted in the previous post a couple-of-dollars-a-day lifestyle can include broadband internet access, but I would need to add a fancy laptop.  The Internet + laptop combination creates the opportunity to make and maintain social bonds across the globe – pretty powerful stuff.
  • Hot water in the shower. I have gone on 3 months without it, but well, I was younger then.
  • Air Conditioning. Fans are much better than nothing, but for years instead of months, it’s AC for me.
  • Safety – It shouldnt be dangerous to walk around alone close to home. At my friend’s place in Yopougon unfortunately it kind of is, partly due to me standing out starkly as the only white guy.
  • Health Care. Got to have access to pretty decent health care as one is likely to catch something sooner or later when living long term in West Africa. If one can pay for it, I believe reasonably decent health care is available in capital cities in West Africa, but having the option to go to Europe is probably a good complement.
  • A car. Without one, the only way to get around is with taxis, and over time that’s pretty suboptimal.

To conclude, here’s a 4 min video showing comedian Louis CK talking about people in today’s society taking things for granted:

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Responses

  1. It’s nice having an air conditioner in the Abidjan office, but to be honest we hardly ever use the air-conditioners in the house. In the last month we were forced to use the air conditioner in the bedroom because someone borrowed our fan, and last night was the first night with the fan back. I slept very well.

    Having said all that, our appartment is on the 5th floor, and nothing beat’s the natural breeze. If you’re too confined to air-conditioned environments, it makes transitions uncomfortable (e.g. leaving the bedroom in the morning).

    It gets silly, when in the case of one friend here, he had to book into a hotel with a generator, the day there were power-cuts because he couldn’t sleep in house without electricity.

  2. Well, I have some sympathy for your friend. I’ve had plenty of sleepless utterly breeze-less nights in Senegal during power cuts, but then again I’m Swedish so I have an excuse.

    One more thing on safety. In Senegal I stayed in a Yopougon-like area and by going back to the same place every year I got to know practically everyone on one very short street. On that street I felt (and I believe was) safe, but I would never go outside that street alone after nightfall.

  3. […] came out as Euros without any problems. Guess this is one more of these things that everybody take for granted, but when thinking about it, global banking networks are quite […]


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