Is a New House a Key to Happiness?

We have all read about the current real estate feeding frenzy. Homes that received no buyer interest are suddenly generating multiple offers because of low interest rates and the "need" to make a change. One of my colleagues lost out on seven starter homes for which the family bid above listing price before they finally landed one. In a K-shaped recovery, those with money do well, those without, not so much. So those who have money are flush with cash after a year of not spending much. Are we in a 21st-century Roaring '20s?

To gain some perspective, I picked up William B. Irvine's book on Stoicism, "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy."

Stoics did not believe that many of the things we are chasing were worth chasing. They believed that what mattered was virtue and tranquility (the absence of negative emotions). They also recognized that having it all ultimately led to a level of dissatisfaction that the next thing bought would not permanently alleviate. In essence, our joy needs to evolve internally.

Irvine writes, "The Stoics thought there is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things life has to offer, as long as we are careful in the manner in which we enjoy them. In particular, we must be ready to give up the good things without regret if our circumstances should change."

I loved my first car, a used Audi sedan that I bought in the early '80s. Every time I got into it, I appreciated its leather seats and cockpit. One day the person I loaned my car to was in an accident, walking away unhurt but totaling my prized possession. I felt as crushed as the car. I eventually got over it after going through a series of cars that I kept for years without valuing as much. But playing things out, I lost the car during the peak of my joy with it, before it started to rust. My fond memories exist partly because it was taken from me. That's life. No matter how hard we try to cling to our youth and health, we age and get sick. We lose relationships. The things we love when we buy them go out of style or fall apart. The irony is that if we initially imagine loss happening, we could increase our joy because we would appreciate it more. We take less for granted when we incorporate negative outcome visualization.

Another Stoic principle is to want what we have. "We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire," Irving writes. Sound familiar? Don't you wonder if some of the buyers in this great real estate rush, making snap decisions on homes they haven't even seen, may end up wondering what got into them? Fixing internal disease with external change is equally unfulfilling and expensive. Appreciate the things that you currently have (while also recognizing you won't keep them forever) and you will make better decisions about what else to introduce into your life.

Irvine points out, "[The] Stoic sorts the elements of his life into three categories: those over which he has complete control, those over which he has no control at all, and those over which he has some but not complete control." We should spend our time on the things over which we have influence and disregard the others. We don't have control over the stock market, but we have influence over how we react to its gyrations. We have no control over how others respond to us, but control over how we respond to them. This helps us to focus on our manageable processes rather than fleeting results.

I don't know whether we are in another Roaring '20s, but how we prepare for loss, valuing what we have while recognizing it isn't forever, and controlling for only the things we can control, will bring us tranquility.

Related: 4 Things You Need To Consider Before Purchasing a Rental Property