Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Art of the Good Life #12 : The Things that you buy leave no trace

When an experiment is conducted where researchers ask participants about how much a recently bought object brings them happiness, it was found that an expensive high-end car brings more personal satisfaction than an average vehicle. However, when the same participants were asked about how they experienced their last trip, the price of the vehicle did not affect their experience.

This chapter is really about two concepts that are commonly in the local financial blogosphere.

The first concept is that when it comes to purchases, experiences always trump things. I have tried to explore various counterfactuals but I can not come up with anything that contradicts this. My only conclusion is that some experiences lose their value when they lose their novelty. Your fourth Hokkaido trip may  be much more boring than your first. Of course, you can simply buy more and more exotic experiences. 

The second concept is that of the hedonic treadmill. After living in a landed property, there is a tendency to get jaded so it no longer brings you pleasure. In fact, losing your landed property can bring you lots of misery.

I am currently grappling the consequences of accepting these ideas as fundamental truths. They seem so powerful and almost spiritual in it's universality.

Suppose if we can retreat into a life of computer gaming and binge watching of Netflix where Internet media repeatedly comes up with novel ways of entertaining us, isn't that a life of complete and utter satisfaction ? Then why do people even bother setting up families and having children when they can defeat enemies in Warcraft, run mega corporations in Eve or explore different universes by binge watching series ?

Social science is catching on to this new reality.

The useless class in the US are lowly-educated jobless males who no longer participate in the labour markets. They started showing up in labor statistics since the Great Recession and labour participation rates never recovered. Shocklingly, social scientists are detecting high levels of life satisfaction amongst these guys. I've always attributed this to better computer games, especially RPGs, which can credible make up for the lack of achievement in anyone's lives. I would forget that moment as a 9 year old that in Dungeons and Dragon, you can have a Strength of 18 and can level and get better as you murder more monsters.

We can laugh at hikkikomori of Japan and label them as losers but the latest Economist article last week is gushing about how satisfied and happy these guys are living with their parents and having no responsibilities of their own.

I think Asia is undergoing some sort of Renaissance that sees the otaku and hikkikomori transform into a phenomenon that is  more acceptable in society. The Japanese have this new term to describe these men : The Satori Sendai or the Enlightened Generation. China has also followed suit with gentler labels like Buddhist Youth.

Right now, I don't have a grand unified theory that synthesises all these concepts but a combination of technological disruption, augmented reality and virtual worlds is normalizing the destruction of ambition on our men. I leave you to decide whether this is a good thing.

It gets more ludicrous once you include the financial perspective.  A single man may only need $150k-$200k to generate $1,000 a month to live a hikkikomori life of living with parents and playing CRPGs all day. Parents can even be given a small allowance.

So perhaps it's that little bit of financial savvy can turn a hikkikomori to a satori sendai

This way, Capitalism is the new Buddhism of the masses.


  1. Hi Christopher,

    Adopt a open mindset. You will find easier to accept such trend.

    People are entitled to select their preferred lifestyle. The most important thing is to be happy always and make the desired choice.


  2. Hi Ben,

    Yeas you are right, but Zheng hu will have something to say about this, there are also other groups of people whose lifestyle choices is completely different, with some being relatively more sefless in a societal context. In short, this grp of ppl mentioned in Chris article has the potential to fuck up the progress of a nation, and of course, then fuck up the interest of many other groups of people sharing the same country as these Hikkomori (o NEETs) if not by this generation, then by the next. Very soon, u will find urself not even having the luxury "to be happy and make the desired choice".

    So I think, giving and taking would be a better idea. Find some work, pay ur taxes, contribute abit, say hello, take ur vitamins, and then u can DOTA (my favorite) or visit Geylang CC all u want (wear helmet pls) and no one would say anything

  3. Hi JH Ng,

    We only live once. Why lead the life for the sake of others and suffer in silence? We have to come back to the basis of understanding what is life about. Do we have to follow the norms like the majority of ppl take? If yes, I feel that there is a need to ask ourselves on whether this is the lifestyle we really want. Are we living to fulfill other ppl's desire and dreams?

    There is lots of mind pondering to be made. My take is that I will follow what I feel is right for me. I will not express my opinions openly and persuade others to follow my style. I feel that each one of us is unique and entitled to his or her preference.

    I will not bother with the opinions of others on my decision. This is my life and I take charge of my decision and will be responsible for the outcome of the decision.

    My two cents of opinion.


  4. This is a very interesting exchange.

    I will not characterise the effects of Satori Sendai as being something negative for the economy as we do not have this information yet. I suspect that underemployment is the reason why unemployment metrics can be kept low without a corresponding increase in inflation.

    As for just letting people live out their lives, it's much easier to take this stand if you are single. I have kids and the last thing I want them to do is to follow some uncle in his footsteps of living in the family basement and playing Overwatch all day and trolling EDMW.