Can money buy happiness?
When I’m stressed, bummed out, or just plain bored, video games are a go-to activity for me. Tetris, Star Fox, Sonic the Hedgehog—you know, the greats.
Okay, I’m what you’d probably call a “retro” gamer nowadays.
To be fair, retro games are still a lot of fun. Though I must admit, sometimes when I’m feeling really burnt out, I wonder if it’s time to upgrade. That’s how I arrived at the decision to pick up a Nintendo Wii several years ago: I was a college senior, overwhelmed by classes and prepping for grad school, and just wanted a break from it all.
That new console provided some much-needed entertainment, but with it came a vague feeling of hollowness. Did I just try to buy happiness? Did that mean the happiness was bound to be short-lived? Would I have to buy more stuff the next time I started feeling down?
And to top it all off, it felt wasteful. I already had plenty of other ways to distract myself from my studies. Why didn’t it feel like it was enough?
Well, perhaps because it wasn’t. I went through a similar rough patch a few months ago, and that same impulse to buy my way out of misery popped back into my head. This time, however, I found another solution, and it was from the most unlikely of sources.
In the footsteps of a shoemaker
I was visiting my parents one weekend when my father pulled me aside to join him on a characteristic journey through his YouTube bookmarks.
His pick that afternoon was a video of a leathercrafter restoring a pair of old, worn-out dress shoes. I initially balked at the 15-minute run time (we skipped around), but by the end, I found myself oddly captivated.
Those shoes were in bad shape—rips, cracks, and soles that could be peeled right off. But with some effort and some know-how, this man transformed them into something magnificent.
It made me wonder: instead of succumbing to the pressure to buy the latest gadget, could I make my old belongings somehow feel new again?
A word on the third dimension
One of my prized possessions is the Nintendo 64 my parents gifted to me as a child. It has brought me and my friends hours and hours of joy.
It’s also about 20 years old now, and pretty beat up.
The 64 was Nintendo’s first major attempt at 3D gaming. Prior to that, a lot of games were set in two-dimensional spaces: players could move up and down and left and right, and that was it. Barring some notable exceptions, 2D was the norm.
To help liberate the player from the bounds of two dimensions, Nintendo brought us the analog control stick. Gone were the days of moving in only four directions (or eight, if you count the diagonals). Now, there was the full 360 degrees to choose from, and its dynamic range allowed players to go from a tiptoe to a full sprint with ease.
However, it had some design flaws.
The control stick has a lot of moving parts, and the constant plastic-on-plastic grinding that occurs during gameplay causes those parts to wear down. Over time, the control stick loses its sensitivity, making games a lot harder to play. Thus, revisiting my N64 has been an uncomfortable mix of nostalgia and frustration.
The joy of new joysticks
So, why not fix it up?
After watching that video with my dad, I began to search for ways of restoring my old N64 controllers. There’s a plethora of solutions out there, ranging from the reasonable to the outlandish.
Eventually, I settled on the obvious choice: order replacement parts. Alas, there was still something new to buy, but standalone analog sticks are a minor expense compared to full controllers (or an entirely new console, for that matter). I ordered the materials, and after a week of shipping and a couple afternoons of tinkering, my project was complete: 4 controllers, good as new.
Since then, I’ve been enjoying all my old games frustration-free. And to keep things interesting, I’ve found all sorts of ways to challenge myself: speed runs, 100% runs, high-difficulty runs, the list goes on and on.
Mending is better than ending
To close, I’d like to recount a particularly poignant passage from a book I read in the weeks following my little project.
It came from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which describes a dystopian society that places a high value on consumerism (among other questionable ideals). People’s social interactions are mediated largely by expensive hobbies, flashy goods, and drug-induced euphoria. It seems wasteful and soulless, but if it’s good for the economy, then it must be good for society.
In order to instill these values, infants are subjected to an elaborate regimen of psychological conditioning. As they sleep, they listen to repeated audio recordings of various slogans, which imprint upon their minds and guide their behavior as adults. One of these went: “Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending.” That is, when things get old, it’s best to throw them out and buy something new.
In this case, I’ve done the opposite, and I feel it’s made me just as happy.
I acknowledge that this doesn’t apply in all situations. Some things are truly beyond repair, beyond one’s abilities, or beyond one’s resources. The experience I’ve described here is unique in many ways.
But I hope this story inspires you to find more ways of mending, rather than ending. We don’t always need to buy our way to happiness. Sometimes we already have what we need.
It just takes a little effort.
Some related links for further consideration
- The shoe restoration video that inspired my project and this post
- “How Playing Tetris Tames The Trauma Of A Car Crash,” a story from NPR that partially validates my preference for that old block-stacking game
- Paper Mario Challenge Running Wiki, a site that lists challenges for the N64 game Paper Mario that I’ve been working my way through