The XX Factor

What Will Make You Happier: 40 Years of Therapy, Marriage, or a Vacation?

One of my favorite weekend games lately is to look for ways in which different parts of the Sunday NYT weirdly relate to each other. There was the Sunday in June on which a front page story told of a government crackdown on child farm labor while the Times Magazine ran an idyllic photo of 6- and 7-year-old Sarah and Molly Brown helping out on the family dairy farm in Oxford, Miss.

Last Sunday, my dissonant pairing was Daphne Merkin’s woeful cover story on the vicissitudes of 40 years of therapy and a story in the business section about how to spend money to make yourself happier. The lesson from a study of nine categories of consumption was that “the only category to be positively related to happiness was leisure: vacations, entertainment, sports and equipment like golf clubs and fishing poles.” A trip to Italy or the beach sure seemed more joyous than Merkin’s woeful tales from the analyst’s couch. Vacations also apparently give more happiness bang for the buck than marriage: “A $20,000 increase in spending on leisure was roughly equivalent to the happiness boost one gets from marriage,” said the author of the study, University of Wisconsin professor Thomas DeLeire. My husband wanted to know why no one mentioned that earlier.