Sonja Lyubomirsky drives a Prius from her beach community to a teaching job some 70 miles away. She was elated when her name came to the top of a waiting list for a Prius, but for a moment the 40-year-old experimental psychologist wondered if her enthusiasm for buying a vehicle that's easier on the environment will be mistaken for materialism. And worse, could her driving experience subside into "hedonic adaptation," that feeling that after getting something you want you end up no happier than you were before your good fortune?

I found this story about Lyubomisrky and her research on happiness very intriguing. The fact she drives a Prius gives me some leeway on posting it on AutoblogGreen. Since writing for ABG, I've wondered about how drivers of Prius hybrids and other small cars really feel about their vehicles. I remember seeing some JD Power studies a few years ago that show a very high rate of consumers who leave the small-car segment after only a short time. Granted, small vehicles represent a budget or entry-level investment, and as consumers move up the economic ladder they can afford bigger cars. But the Prius represented much more. And it wasn't just the fact that it was a hybrid. Other hybrid models such as the Escape and Civic never really enjoyed the same enthusiasm and sales response as the Prius. The Prius was a political statement as well as a "being the first on your block" prize.

But are people really happy with small cars, hybrids or not? I was miserable in the Prius not because of the performance but because of the center dash display. I wasn't comfortable with the additional eye movement. Despite all the tech advancements and excellent fuel economy, the car just didn't fit my butt, as they say. When friends ask about which vehicle they should buy, they often cite resale value questions. I always say don't worry about resale values if you're going to drive this vehicle for 3 years or more. Buy one that's comfortable. You've got to drive that car every day, why be miserable just so you can make an extra $500 or even $1,000 in three or four years? I wonder the same about Prius and small-car owners. Are they just suffering through the experience to make a statement? Or are they really happy? Or do they not care?

Recently I did move from a full-size pickup to a compact car, one that gives me plenty of cargo room and I get a solid 25 mpg average with 30 on the highway. It's not a Prius in terms of my carbon footprint, but it's three times lighter than my truck and I'm comfortable. I enjoy driving, and while it's not prudent for my particular situation to have a fullsize truck right now, I miss going off off-road and other benefits of driving a truck. Am I happy? Not completely because I miss my XM radio but hopefully that will be fixed soon.

Read this interesting piece from Scientific American and, please, be happy when driving!

[Source: Marina Krakovsky/Scientific American]