The number of ads I see in a day kind of pisses me off.
Have you noticed? Everywhere you look, somebody’s trying to sell you something. Every second of every day, from signs and billboards to direct mail flyers to the garbage in your Facebook News Feed, everybody wants your attention—and by extension, your money.
We enable this aggressive, nonstop marketing because we respond to it.
We think that buying random shit makes us happy. And it does, briefly. Until the next shiny thing comes along and we just have to have it.
Why do we chase happiness with our wallets?
I think in many cases it stems from a lack of satisfaction with our lives in general.
We think we can buy this cool new thing and our problems will magically melt away. Suddenly our parents will love us or our partners will stop cheating on us or our looming sense of existential dread will dissipate—all thanks to this new kitchen set we got for a great price at IKEA.
Many purchases can indeed be worthwhile, but research continues to suggest that excessive materialism makes us miserable.
It’s time to stop looking for fulfillment in dining sets or 60-inch TVs, and start looking within ourselves to mitigate the problem at its root.
It’s okay to buy stuff and enjoy certain luxuries, but those luxuries should merely complement a strong, independent foundation of happiness and security.
I’ve long been fascinated by Buddhist psychology and its emphasis on mindfulness, gratitude, and compassion:
- Mindfulness is being present and aware in every moment, not distracting yourself with your phone or stressing about the future.
- Gratitude is appreciating the beauty of life and being thankful for what you already have, not wishing you had more.
- Compassion is empathizing with the struggles of others, genuinely wishing them well and helping where you can.
I’m far from perfect, but I’ve found that when I manage to maximize these three principles, it makes a far greater difference in my overall well-being than anything external like money or possessions.
That’s also not to say that money has no impact on happiness—though the evidence suggests the correlation between income and happiness ends somewhere around $75,000. However, I would argue that money’s impact on your happiness depends less on how much you make than on how you spend it.
If you blow every extra dollar on stuff, you’re unlikely to see any meaningful increase in life satisfaction. But, as has been widely reported, spending money on experiences can yield great returns.
As Dr. Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University told Fast Company:
Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.
Other research has found that spending money on others promotes greater happiness than spending money on oneself:
Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.
Materialism will not solve your problems, and browsing Amazon for shit you didn’t know you wanted will not make you happier.
Happiness comes from within. If you seem to be running into internal barriers, please take the time to address those—and don’t be conned by some ad that guarantees you’ll finally be happy for three easy payments of $19.99.