This one will make me happy

Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve loved cars. I remember learning to drive when I couldn’t even reach the pedals, this being México, where rules are less strict. When I was 15 years old, I got my first car, a black 1987 Saab 900, and I felt like I was on top of the world. Since then, I’ve always owned a car. But at the same time, ever since I’ve owned a car, I’ve been thinking about the next one, the “dream car”, the car I’d like to own if I had enough money to buy it. Everyone I knew did this, they all had a Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini poster on their wall or thought about what car they’d buy if they ever won the lottery. It was nice to dream and think that an unattainable car would bring so much happiness to my life if I ever got it.

During my last semester in college, one of my motivations to secure a job was that my current car was old and I wanted money to buy a nicer, newer car. I finally got hired by a company in Los Angeles 2 months before I graduated, and the pay was great, success! Less than 3 months into my new job, my old car was having problems. I was driving from San Diego to Los Angeles and back every weekend, and all those miles were taking their toll. One weekend, the car just stopped working. I was in San Diego and needed a working car that weekend to get back home in Los Angeles.

I didn’t plan it that way. I thought I’d have more time to look around and maybe save a little more for the car I really wanted, but no, I had to get something that worked, and fast. After some research, I found a lease deal on a Ford Fiesta. The payments seemed reasonable and the car got great gas mileage, so I went for it. I thought: I can buy it, use it for a while, and then sell it and buy the car I really want.

Buying that new car, my first new car, didn’t make me happier, but I thought at the time, “Well, it’s not my dream car, so of course it doesn’t make me happier. When I buy the next car, the car I really want, that will make me happier”.

During my time in Los Angeles, the idea of my dream car had changed. I realized I really liked the outdoors: camping, traveling, bike riding, road trips, snow, trips to Baja and things like that. My dream car was no longer a low sports car that I could only drive in a place with perfect roads. No, now I wanted something that could take me anywhere. Funnily enough, my dream car was now a Subaru Crosstrek, a car that had just been released the year I moved to Los Angeles. This car was basically a hatchback that had a higher suspension, bigger all-terrain tires, all-wheel drive, a body kit that made it look more rugged, and, if you bought the right one, this cool paint job that made it look gray/light brown/green depending on the light – it was perfect. I would see them driving around and imagine myself driving the car through some rough terrain heading to a cool campsite, with my gear in the back. Did I need this new car? Of course not, my other car was only a year old at the time, but did I want it? Oh yes!

After two years of dreaming, finally on June 2015 I was finally able to buy the car. I remember going to the Subaru website and clicking on the Build and Price configurator. I clicked on the car I wanted, the options, the cool paint, the interior fabric and color, and the cool black wheels; after all, this was my dream car and it had to be exactly how I wanted it. I even chose the paddle shifters option, something I had always wanted. When I was done with the configuration, I printed out the page. I remember looking at the page and thinking, “Yes, this is it, my dream car, it’s perfect”. I took that page and went to the Subaru dealer and showed it to the salesman and told him “I want this exact car”, he looked at it and said “We don’t have this exact car right now, but we have something similar, do you want to look at it?”, I said “No, I want this exact car”. The car salesman said they had to order it and it would take a month to arrive. I said, “Yes, that’s OK”, after all, this was my dream car, and if I had to wait a month, so be it.

The appointment came, it was July 2015 and my dream car was finally here. My brother drove me to the dealer to pick up the car. I remember they had just finished removing the protective wrap that new cars come in. That day I was overjoyed because I finally had it, my dream car, ordered exactly as I wanted it, no compromises had been made.

The first few months I owned the car, I took it everywhere, I went camping, did some road trips, drove it to Yosemite, to the desert, to the snow, just about everything. It could do it all and it was great. It was the best car I had ever owned. But after a few months something strange happened: I noticed things I wanted to change, now it wasn’t perfect anymore, now I was thinking about buying different wheels, different tires, maybe some accessories, maybe better speakers. At first I saw this as normal, “everybody does that”, I said to myself. So I went ahead and made some of the “improvements” I had thought of. But it didn’t stop there, I kept thinking of more and more things I wanted to change or buy. By this time, I had a trip planned, so I went away for 11 months. During that time I was traveling and not thinking about the car at all.

When I came back from the trip, my dream car had become just a car: it was just the means for commuting to work and go grocery shopping. One day, as I was driving to work, I noticed I was thinking about what car I wanted to buy next, keep in mind I had only had my car for a year and a half, I was looking at other cars and thinking “Man, it would be nice to have that car”. I kept thinking like that for some weeks, during my spare time, I researched how much these cars cost, what the monthly payments were, and so on.

But one day it hit me: for years, I had been thinking about this dream car, about how happy I would be when I finally got it, then I got the car and yes I was happy, but only for a few months, after that, the happiness was gone, and now I was looking at the next car that I kept telling myself would really make me happy. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. This was truly insanity. I realized material things do bring happiness, but short-lived, we become addicted to this feeling and keep looking for the next thing to buy, the next material thing that will bring happiness. I thought about it for some days, and I realized a new car would bring nothing to my life, and this current car was also bringing nothing to my life. So, in May 2017, less than 2 years after buying it, I sold my “dream car”, I saw no point in owning it anymore. It was financed, and I still had more than 4 years of payments, too long for something not worth having.

So, what did I drive instead, you might wonder? I lived in San Diego after all, where public transit sucks, so a car is a necessity. Well, for a long time, I had been wanting a convertible, specifically a VW Cabrio. I found one online, a 16-year-old one, for only $3,000 (compare that to the $27,000 that my previous one had cost). I bought it, not expecting it to make me happy, I knew better by now, but just wanting something fun to drive, get some extra sun, learn to drive a manual car again, and to restore the car to new condition. This was more of an experiment, a learning experience. It ended up being a much more fun and rewarding car to drive, who cares if it wasn’t new, who cares if it wasn’t expensive, I couldn’t impress anyone with it, but it didn’t matter. The phrase “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like” came to mind, I thought “My real friends won’t care what car I drive anyways, I don’t need to impress them”. 

My $3,000 experiment car

Did I get judged for this decision? Yes, of course I did, multiple times, people told me you go up in life and buy a more expensive car every time, a nicer one, a newer one, not head in the other direction and buy the oldest car I had ever owned. I didn’t care what they said, I said to myself “They are not really my friends if they judge me by what I drive” and I moved on.

Material things don’t bring true happiness. I feel very fortunate to have learned this lesson in my 20s, fortunate that my dream car was attainable, and that I had the means to buy it. I think this is a hard lesson to learn unless you experience it, and I’m so happy I did.

LESSON: “You can never get enough of what you don’t need, because what you don’t need, won’t satisfy you”.

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