People are paring down, cutting back.  Will it last?

And if it does, what does it mean for the consumer or business brand of tomorrow?

I thought about this as I read a great piece in the Sunday New York Times by Stephanie Rosenbloom on the link between consumption and happiness.  According to Rosenbloom in the downsized economic world people are discovering that the Beatles were right … money does not buy you love … or happiness.

While the current round of stinginess may simply be a response to the economic downturn, some analysts say consumers may also be permanently adjusting their spending based on what they’ve discovered about what truly makes them happy or fulfilled.

Of course we all know that, right?  Well we should.  We read about it in the Great Gatsby (something I’m reading for the first time at the recommendation of my daughter).  Poor Gatsby.  Poor Daisy.  Awash with riches and beauty and … absolute boredom!  But we need not rely on F. Scott Fitzgerald and works of  fiction.  Watch an evening of “Access Hollywood”.  The misery to fun ratio leans decidedly to the former.  Addictions.  Infidelity.  Rehab.  Prison.  Divorce.  Abuse.

We’re not talking Leave it to Beaver.  For all their money, the jet set seem a pretty tawdry, depressing, miserable bunch.

No wonder people are paring down.

So is there anything worth buying?  According to the experts the money shot is on things you do, not things you do things with.  That is:

One major finding is that spending money for an experience — concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in Monaco — produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff.

“  ‘It’s better to go on a vacation than buy a new couch’ is basically the idea,” says Professor Dunn, summing up research by two fellow psychologists, Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich. Her own take on the subject is in a paper she wrote with colleagues at Harvard and the University of Virginia: “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right.” (The Journal of Consumer Psychology plans to publish it in a coming issue.)

Good news for hotels and cruise lines, bad news for Best Buy and The Furniture Store.

But some are going beyond the reductionism of consumerism to experiences.  Some are pushing a new minimalist lifestyle.  Not the least of whom is the author of RowdyKittens, Tammy Strobel.

Could this be the ‘new’ normal?  I actually think so.  At some point the cacophony of modern life takes its toll.  And the uncertain economic climate only reinforces what most people already know.  That the delight in life is in simple, genuine experiences.  Which brings us back to brands and what may be the modern test for brands in these lean economic times.

What simple, genuine experience do you generate for your customer?