Why Buying More Stuff is Never Going to Make You Happy

Why Buying More Stuff is Never Going to Make You Happy

by Alex Hyett | 4 min read

You wake up and everything is eerily quiet.

For some reason, the radio station isn’t playing any music and the TV is just showing static. You haven’t got time for this, you need to get ready for work. You overslept and it is already 8.30 am.

You struggle with the door keys while also trying to put on your coat and not let the toast drop from your mouth.

On the way to work, it doesn’t take you long to realise that no one else is up.

Where is everyone?

Cars are abandoned on the road with keys still in the ignition, and engines still running.

Everyone has disappeared, everyone apart from you that is. After you have come to terms with the fact that you are the last person on Earth (it might take a while).

You realise that you can have anything you want.

You can live in a mansion, own a Ferrari, wear the nicest clothes and own anything you have ever dreamed of.

Do you still want it though? Probably not.

Does a Ferrari still have its appeal if no one sees you drive it?

Status Symbols

At some point most people dream of living in a big house, owning a nice car and for some, wearing shoes with red bottoms.

Not many people stop to think, why do they want these things?

The world has got very good at marketing and it has realised that the key to getting people to buy things is not to sell them the thing but to sell them happiness.

Sell them the feeling that they will have after they buy their amazing product.

Sell them the envious look on your neighbour’s face when you drive off in your sports car.

On top of this, our whole society reinforces this everywhere you look.

You go to school, college and university so that you can get a good job, and earn lots of money, so you can buy more stuff.

This is what society expects from us. Once you have the large house, the fancy car and the expensive clothes you have won the game of life, you will be happy.

Dr Ben Shahar, a Harvard Professor calls this the “arrival fallacy”. It is the idea that once you reach these milestones you will have everlasting happiness.

As we have seen, if your happiness is derived from the envious looks from others, it is never going to last. You buy these things to show your status in society but they are not going to make you happy.

The problem is that happiness from buying things is always fleeting. You might get a rush when you buy something new but soon you get used to your new toy and you need to buy something else to get your endorphin fix.

You will always return to a default level of happiness.

You end up being on this constant hamster wheel of earning money and spending it to impress other people.

Comparison is the cornerstone of misery. To be less miserable, and maybe even happier, avoid comparing yourself to someone else.

Chris Guillebeau

We always envy those that are in closer proximity to our situation than those better off. You are more likely to envy a colleague’s promotion compared to a celebrities new car.

As you buy more stuff you work your way up the status ladder, the social hierarchy.

However, you can never “Keep up with the Joneses” as you will always find other Joneses to compare yourself to, someone higher up the ladder.

What is the alternative?

I am not saying it is bad to want to buy material things. We all need a certain level of material goods to survive.

The problem occurs when you centre your life around buying more possessions.

If your sole happiness comes from buying more and more stuff, how are you going to feel when that stuff breaks down, gets lost or is stolen?

True happiness comes from experiences. Whether that be time spent with family and friends or taking a vacation and visiting somewhere you have never been.

Unlike material possessions, which seem exciting at the beginning but then often depreciate quickly, experiences actually gain in value over time: They pay what I call a memory dividend.

Bill Perkins

Be grateful for what you have rather than lusting over more material goods.

Before buying anything that you feel is going to make you happy wait at least 24 hours (or even better a week). If you still feel that way after that time then go ahead and buy it, just remember that it isn’t going to make you happy for long.

Try and buy quality of quantity.

  1. You are more likely to appreciate the item more if it is of a higher quality.
  2. It should last longer saving you from having to go out and buy more stuff.

I have fallen into this trap so many times. I bought something because it was cheaper but ended up having to replace it a couple of months down the line with a more expensive alternative.

Whenever you buy something, ask yourself whether this is going to give you lasting positive memories.

At the end of life, all we have is our memories, you can’t take the rest with us.


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