The Environmental Impact of your next Rolex

by Christie Klimas 

Intrigued by the title, I saved the article “If money doesn’t make us happy, why do we act as if it does?”  I’ve become more and more interested in behavioral economics recently, and likely found this article in one of my random (‘for fun’) literature searches. Just to show that I lead a more balanced life than is indicated by the last sentence, I also enjoy playing ultimate Frisbee – and given a choice, I far prefer ultimate to literature searches. But my preferences aside, there is an increasing amount of research into “happiness.” Research has indicated a somewhat relationship between income and happiness. At low levels of income the happiness index increases rapidly as per capita income increases, but beyond about $10,000, the relationship becomes much weaker (Inglehart & Klingemann 2000). So, then why do we pursue income after the point of diminishing returns?

Ahuvia (2008) suggest that subjective well-being is not our only goal in life, that people are overly attracted to near-term rewards, and that our actions often are driven by evolved desires that can be inconsistent with personal subjective well-being. The author provides a very thorough review of relevant literature with a myriad of easy-to-understand examples.

I am interested in the increase in consumption because of its detrimental impacts on the environment -increasing consumption requires the use of more resources (inputs) and results in more waste production. In addition, the lifetime of consumer products are limited in duration and the time that they give us pleasure is often even more limited. Yet, freedom of choice is an important component of our culture, so what’s a valid way to frame the positives of reducing consumption? Well, Ahuvia (2008) states that working in harmony with the human drive for status, but shaping it in more eco-friendly ways may be highly viable for an ecologist. For example, the author mentions that from an ecological perspective, it makes sense to redirect status consumption toward goods like a Rolex (handmade by skilled craftsmen for $6000) instead of a quartz watch ($40). The environmental impact of the Rolex is very low (indeed, it is much less than buying a used car or other ways one might spend $6000). While this type of purchase may not be viable for a majority of people, tying status to goods with a low environmental impact is an interesting possibility.


Ahuvia, A. 2008. If money doesn’t make us happy, why do we act as if it does? Journal of Economic Psychology. 29: 491-507


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