Claire’s new column will appear at odd and unexpected moments. (Most likely once a week or so.)
Recently a work colleague bought a house. She is so happy. She shows me pictures on her iPad. The house is nice with lots of light and space and French doors that open onto the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I’m not sure about that last bit because by the time we get to the French doors my eyes are narrow slits and my face aches from all the smiling. I want to embrace her happiness. Instead, all I want to do is grab her iPad and stomp on it.
Here’s why: I rent
In Australia we’re obsessed with home ownership. It’s how you become a real person. A legitimate human being. We’re devoted to this obsession and the economy thrives on it. We borrow big and then spend the next two or three decades chipping away at Debt Ridge Central.
We call rent “dead money”. Debbie, an acquaintance I haven’t seen in twenty years, hated that term:
“Of course it’s not dead money. Rent pays for a roof over your head and gives you a place to sleep and eat and keep warm.”
Anyway, most Australians would disagree with her.
Here, home ownership confers worth, wealth, stability and security.
It’s all rubbish of course. But I am weak and gullible and I would like to buy a house and become a respectable person. My problem is that houses in Melbourne have price tags that would scare the Aga Khan.
I need consolation.
Because I have no idea where Debbie is these days, I consult Eckhart Tolle:
“When you get attached to objects, when you are using them to enhance your worth in your own eyes and in the eyes of others, concern about things can easily take over your whole life … you are looking for yourself in them.”(Stillness Speaks, pp.98-99)
I feel better for five minutes. And then I google Real Estate.com.
A week later I read about Professor Lyubomirsky from the University of California. She studies happiness and she says that renters are happier than homeowners. She doesn’t say why renters are happier so I do my own research.
The happiness survey
I email three renters and three homeowners to find out how happy they are with life in general. Here’s what I ask:
On a scale of 1 to 10 — with one being severely depressed and ten being deliriously happy — how would you rate yourself?
(Severely depressed) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (deliriously happy)
They answer promptly.
I award myself a 7.8 but then I remember my iPad rage, so I change it to minus three. I consult my teenage son who understands statistics.
Me: How do I find the average of minus three and 7.8?
Son: Your survey doesn’t make sense.
Me: I don’t care about that. What I want to know is how to average out minus three and 7.8 to see how happy I am.
Son: Your survey doesn’t have negative numbers. To get an average, you need to start your scale from zero, then add your happiness score and then divide by two.
(This was getting complicated. So I removed myself from the equation. I’m too biased anyway, even for a survey as loopy as this.)
Because I have no idea what to do next, I add the renters’ scores together first. Their total happiness tally is 25. Then I add the homeowners’ scores together. Their total is 25.
I conclude the following:
- My survey participants are exceptionally happy and perhaps do not represent the general population.
- I would be equally as happy whether I rent or buy.
- Professor Lyubomirsky needs to reassess her theory.
Then I find this article by James Altucher and the last thing I want to do is buy a house. I would summarise it for you but you will have to read it for yourselves.
I have to go and pay my rent.