Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside

What kind of car would you buy if money wasn’t an issue?

I’ve had this conversation with a few people in the last couple of weeks. It’s always interesting to hear what people think they would do.

In my experience, what people actually do when they find themselves in that situation is sometimes quite different.

The ’99 Ford Laser I’m currently driving is fine, but for some reason I think I need something better different. Even so, I’ve struggled to get excited about the purchase.

Scott Adams explains it nicely:

“I remember when Dilbert hit it big and it became clear that I would never again have to worry about money. It was a wonderful feeling, but it didn’t last. I went from happy to hollow with no warning. The first moment that I could afford any car I wanted, I lost interest in having a nice car. I simply couldn’t see the point, if there ever was one. Success is surprisingly disorienting.”

From: The Meaning of Meaning

And, in his book ‘Stumbling on Happiness’ Dan Gilbert offers a possible explanation:

“We change across time; the person you are when you are imagining what it would be like to have that fancy new car is not the person you will be when you actually have that fancy new car.”

From: The Joy of Delusion, New York Times

PS The title for this post and the cartoon above can both be found in Hugh McLeod’s excellent manifesto called How to be creative.

16 thoughts on “Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside”

  1. It is incredibly interesting to get this perspective first hand. There was a TED presso in 2004 that covered this very topic – The gist is that we are quite bad at predicting what will make us happy and sad (it works both ways). So, events that we expect will have a massive impact on our lives turn out to not have such a big impact after all. The presso goes into why that is.

    Alain De Botton also wrote a very successful popular philosophy book called ‘Consolations of Philosophy’ ( in which he presents research showing very quickly declining ‘happiness’ returns from increases in wealth.

    Apparently happiness really IS mostly due to state of mind rather than geographic location or account balance size. Those Buddhist monks are on to something!

  2. Interesting Rowan. Have you driven a few “nice” cars and decided that it’s not worth buying a new one? Or have you not experienced driving for a couple of days, so haven’t had time to appreciate one beyond the novelty factor?

    Also – does this just apply to cars? Or are you also just as happy with the house you had a few years ago, just as happy with the home entertainment systems you had, just as happy with the class of accommodation you use when travelling?

  3. “Are you just as happy with …?”.

    That depends what makes you happy I suppose.

    The point I was trying to make is that the things you think would make you happy (normally based on looking at other people) often don’t have that effect.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining :-)

  4. Hi Rowan, someone we both know (who shall remain nameless – but you probably know who I’m talking about) collects fancy cars. He does it because he loves cars. He loves driving them and finds the acceleration, performance and the sense freedom that he gets from them exhilarating. He told me once that he has never driven his Ferrari Superamerica through the town that he lives in – only on the open roads away from other people. His reason was that “the only reason why you’d want to drive a car like that through town is to show off, and that’s not why I got it”. As far as he is concerned, exotic cars satisfy a real internal passion of his, and has nothing to do with anyone but himself. I suspect a fancy car will be a hollow purchase unless there’s a real need that you’re looking to satisfy.

  5. Be happy with what you have and enjoy what you achieve. If you’re not happy right now as you read this you’ll never be happy.

    My advice to myself.

    Selling stuff makes me happiest. I love driving and have enjoyed lots of cars. But the ones I’ve enjoyed the most are the ones I rented and slid around german intersections and maxed out on the autobahn.

    I enjoy my climbing equipment and my nice pair of jeans – but cars? Cars don’t make you happy. Experiences make you happy. Climbing equipment lets me go climb in the outdoors with my friends. Jeans let all the hotgirls like me (hah).

    People and experiences make you happy. Maintaining stuff that doesn’t facilitate an experience is a waste of effort.

    What a hippy.

    – Bennolan

  6. Hi Rowan

    What do you value in a car?

    Do you value beating the next car at the lights? Hurling yourself around a private track? Perhaps a quiet and comfortable ride? Something small and maneuverable for easy city driving and parking? An engineering achievement? Or maybe something large enough for a family to travel in comfort?

    I suspect most car buyers will tick several of these boxes, but can only afford one car. Since these desirable attributes are somewhat mutually exclusive, most car buyers must compromise on all that they value.

    So, it seems to me you are in the enviable position to maximise each of these that you value by buying separate cars (provided you have the parking space).

    Could your ambivalence towards buying a new car be because your current car satisfies and provides those things you value in a car?

  7. My dear husband (DH) recently had the dubious honour of being slagged in the Sunday paper by a competitor (PRJ) because while he claims to be successful he drives a cheap car while PRJ drives a Ferrari – yes, in NZ! DH, however isn’t a car enthusiast and wouldn’t get “real” pleasure out of a Ferrari so surely buying a high ticket car wouldn’t actually be value for money?

    Interestingly 2 of the 40+ women I know who are single with successful careers have just bought themselves sexy cars (what else do you do with your $) – and report that the buying was a rush, the first drive was great but after that it was just another car.

    The Dilbert experience holds true!

  8. Go By an Audi TT Convertible. Not too pricey and a nice design.
    Understated elegance :)

  9. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside




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