“Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.” —Mark Twain
Commercials, advertisements, and marketers work tirelessly to convince us that products manufactured on assembly lines will make us happier.
But in reality, these unnecessary purchases separate us from our dollars and add stress, burden, and obligation to our lives—they don’t bring happiness, they keep us from it!
The goal of Madison Avenue is to distract our desire. Their messaging changes our attitude from “That’s extravagant” to “That would be nice” to “I want that” to “I need it.”
And they are so subtle at their craft we hardly even realize we are being brainwashed. Subconsciously, they take control of our desires, our checkbooks, and ultimately, our lives.
To stop letting advertisers dictate our lives, we must make firm moves to counter their assault. Here are ten steps you can take today:
1. Realize (and decide for yourself) that happiness is not an item to be purchased, it is a decision to be enjoyed.
Beware of destination addiction—the belief that happiness will be realized in your next purchase. The dopamine rush from a new purchase is immediately fleeting. Happiness is a decision available to all of us… it is not for sale on Amazon.
2. Identify what advertisements are trying to sell you.
The emphasis in advertising has moved away from fact-based proclamations to creating associations in the mind of the viewer.
Advertisers appeal to our subconscious desires (status, sex, prestige, happiness, appearance, self-esteem, identity, or reputation) and fears (loneliness, security, weaknesses, uncertainty). Be aware of their strategy so you will not be fooled by it.
3. Buy things for their usefulness, not their status.
Purchase items for their ability to meet your needs, not their ability to impress your neighbor.
Apply this principle everywhere—your house, your car and your clothes are all great places to start. You don’t have to live like everyone else. In fact, you’ll probably be happier if you don’t.
4. Limit marketing messaging.
Unsubscribe from email lists. Cancel junk-mail. Mute your radio/tv during advertisements or better yet, stop watching television altogether.
Enjoy outdoor recreation (biking, exercising, hiking, gardening, camping) or occupy your mind with reading, art, conversation, philosophy, or meditation instead.
5. Recognize your trigger points.
Are there certain stores that prompt unnecessary purchases in your life? Products, addictions, or pricing patterns (clearance sales) that prompt an automatic response from you? (I used to be almost magnetically drawn to Clearance racks).
Maybe there are specific emotions (sadness, loneliness, grief, stress) that give rise to excess consumption. Identify, recognize, and understand these weaknesses. This is one of the most important steps in taking back control of your actions.
6. Count the hidden cost of purchases.
The price of purchasing any item is not limited to the sticker price. Our purchases always cost more.
They require our time, energy, and focus (cleaning, organizing, maintaining, fixing, replacing, removing). They prompt worry, stress, and attachment. Each purchase takes up physical space in our homes and mental space in our mind.
Henry David Thoreau said it best, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Look beyond the price tag.
7. Practice gratitude and generosity.
Gratitude turns what we have into enough. When we stop focusing on the things we don’t have, we are better able to appreciate the things we already do. This mindset shifts our passions away from the promises of advertisers and on to the blessings we already enjoy.
Equally important, generosity reminds us that we already have enough and brings greater fulfillment and satisfaction into our lives.
8. Embrace the sharing economy.
The Internet has brought many new opportunities to us. One of the most important is the emergence of the sharing economy.
Whether people are sharing homes, vehicles, tools, toys, or clothes, there is less need today for ownership than ever before. Ownership is being replaced by relationship—and that’s always a good trade-off.
9. Enforce a 30-day wait period on major purchases.
Avoid regrettable judgments by implementing a month-long waiting period on items over $100 (or pick a dollar amount more applicable). This cooling period will provide opportunity and space to better answer these questions: “Do I really need this?” “Will it make me happier in the long run?” “Are there any subconscious motives to this purchase?” “Can I find it cheaper elsewhere?” and “What could I do with the money instead?“
10. Do more of what makes you happy.
Your possessions are not making you happy. Once our basic needs have been met, the happiness found in consumerism is not noticeable.
Instead, find what it is that truly makes you happy and do more of it. I find my happiness in faith, family, friends, and contribution. Your list may differ from mine. But either way, owning a whole bunch of stuff is almost certainly not on it.
The only release from the influence of marketers and a consumerist society is to exit—to decide that enough is enough and the relentless pursuit of possessions will never lead to an intentional life. The first step is to be intentional in overcoming it.