Broker Check

Acute Purchase Pleasure vs. Habitual Happiness

September 14, 2018

I recently watched the remake of the movie True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld and Matt Damon. Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn, a trigger happy, U.S. Marshal (played in the original by John Wayne.) Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, a bright, plucky teen determined to see her father’s killer, Tom Cheney, brought to justice. Damon rounds out the cast as LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger who is on the trail of Cheney for a different murder.

At one point in the film, Damon and Steinfeld have a conversation about criminal law and mention two concepts that were foreign to me. The legal terms for these ideas, as is usually the case when it comes to the law, are expressed in Latin.

These concepts relate to two types of crimes. The first type of crime is called malum in se. Murder is an example of a crime which is malum in se, or, wrong in itself. The other type of crime is called malum prohibitum or that which is wrong because it is prohibited. I suppose someone driving slightly over the speed limit, on a long stretch of empty highway, is an example of an action that is wrong because it is prohibited.

Fancy Latin terms aside, virtually no one is confused by or disagrees that murder and driving a bit above the speed limit on an empty highway are inherently as different as "crimes" can be. In acknowledgement of this reality, their punishments are very different too.

In one case you will likely get a ticket or perhaps if you are lucky, just a warning. In the other, you may be sentenced to life in prison or even death.

A good number of folks, perhaps a majority, speed to some small extent at various times. Few people, thank goodness, ever commit murder.

Even if there were no law enforcement organizations to police us, I doubt sincerely that crimes like murder would suddenly become commonplace. I suspect though, that infractions like speeding would likely become even more common.

Why? Because we know that one choice is appalling and feel that the other mostly, does not really hurt anyone. Or at least that is what we rationalize.

Where we can get into more serious trouble is when the differences between choices are more subtle.

For example, it is easy to conflate pleasure with happiness.

Are they not one and the same? They are not, though they are related, which is what makes them difficult to distinguish at first.

Pleasure is acute. That is, it is often intense and of relatively short duration.
Happiness, on the other hand, is a consistent condition which persists over time.

Am I splitting hairs? Not at all.

While in the confines of this blog post the difference may seem negligible, the real-world manifestations are often blatant.

Drug addiction is a perfect example of this distinction. By all accounts, drug abusers experience tremendous pleasure while using illicit substances. It is hard to imagine that, as their addictions compromise every other meaningful area of their lives, they are happy.

Obesity is another example. Eating activates the pleasure centers of our brains. High fat, sodium and sugar foods do this best and so they are intensely pleasurable to consume. The results, as related to our weight, joint, artery and emotional health, are not so pleasurable.

Compare the preceding with those who do not use drugs or abuse alcohol; who exercise regularly, eat right and in appropriate quantities, maintain a healthy weight and attend to their sleep.

The healthy folks out for a morning walk might not experience the high of a heroine user, but is there any question that they are far happier as a group?

When we vaporize our money on short term pleasures such as, but not limited to, excessive designer clothing, cars, shoes, watches, restaurants, technology, clubs and memberships we rarely use, extravagant vacations – and the everyday expenses we do not even notice any more like fancy coffees, candy, candy bars, soda pop, magazines we do not really read, gum, lottery tickets and on and on – we are choosing pleasure over happiness.

People can look back on past splurges with crystal clear perspective. "What on earth was I thinking?" "Boy would I love to have that money back in my bank account." Yet, when considering today’s purchase, we feel sure it will, at long last, make us happy. Even though, in the past, it never really has and frankly, never will.

For almost everyone, except for the extraordinarily wealthy, acute purchase pleasure comes at the cost of habitual happiness.

Believe it or not, there is a simple way to prioritize happiness over pleasure, if that is what you want. Simply make a plan for programmed savings. Save first, spend what is left over.

If you are outside the top one half of one percent in income, and the plan is sound, there will not be a ton of money left over. But there will be enough. Enough to buy the things you really want, after giving it some thought.

The rest will go toward your rapidly expanding financial mosaic – your investment portfolio – which will put you in a powerful position to help yourself and those you love long into the future. And that will make you very happy indeed.

If you like, speak with a financial planner you trust to help you come up with a workable savings plan. Remember, your present and future is in your hands. Act now! You will be glad you did.


Scott R. McGimpsey September 13, 2018th

This material was prepared by Scott McGimpsey and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources, however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Neither Summit Brokerage Services Inc. nor Scott McGimpsey is engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professionally services. If such assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal, state, or municipal tax penalty. Moreover, a diversified portfolio does not assure a profit or assure protection against loss in a declining market. UNIFIED PLANNING GROUP is an independent firm with securities offered through Summit Brokerage Services Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC