According to a recent study, advertising makes us unhappy.
This was the conclusion of a recent study that included 900,000 citizens of 27 European countries from 1980 – 2011. Whoa, that’s quite a study! You can read more of the methodology in the Harvard Business Review.
The results don’t surprise me—and probably don’t surprise you either. At the heart of every advertising message is a message that we are not as happy as we could be without their product in our lives. This item will lead to a happier, easier, more convenient, or more luxurious life.
Every advertisement seeks to stir up discontent and convince us that we are not as happy as we could be. No doubt then, that there would be some correlation between levels of unhappiness and frequency of advertisements that we see. You can read more in the article linked above.
Personally, I’m interested in a different conversation. If advertisements contribute to our unhappiness, how can we avoid them? What practical steps can we take in our everyday lives to remove ourselves from their constant barrage?
At one extreme, we could remove ourselves from civilization altogether. We could find a quiet cabin in the woods or on Walden Pond and never interact with anyone else.
That life might appeal to some, but not me. I like people, I like my neighborhood, and I like being involved in society. I enjoy social gatherings, my son’s soccer games, and hosting a small group in my home on Sunday nights. I could remove myself from civilization entirely, but that is not how I want to live.
Given the fact that I (along with many of you) will continue to live in the middle of a consumerist society, what steps can we take to limit the number of advertisements that we see? And ultimately increase our happiness because of it.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Do more things that make you forget to check your phone. By this, I mean, engage in more and more activites where you cannot be reached by advertisers. Play more board games with your family, spend more time in nature, read more books, or go play catch with your son in the backyard. When we get more involved with people or adventures, we see fewer advertisements.
2. Watch less television. Television is an entire medium based on the presumption that we can be manipulated into purchasing items advertised on the screen. It is true that streaming services have changed the industry quite a bit and you may believe that you are not being subjected to advertisements anymore. But I’d argue that’s not the case. Streaming services are still selling you something… even if it’s just on more and more of their streaming service. Spending less time on social media would have the same effect as watching less television.
3. Unsubscribe from email newsletters, magazines, and junk mail lists. One of the most proactive steps you can take today to reduce the number of advertisements you see is unsubscribe from email newsletters. At the bottom of every email newsletter you receive, you will find a “Click to unsubscribe” link. At first, going through this process may seem like a daunting task and never-ending battle. But just start clicking with each new email that arrives. You will be surprised how quickly they slow down and how quickly you’re able to get ahead of them. And while you’re at it, unsubscribe from ad-filled magazines and junk mail. Here’s some advice from Harvard on how to do that.
4. Go shopping less. Shopping is an interesting activity when you think about it. We are marketed to relentlessly outside of stores in order to get us inside. Once inside, we are subjected to even more advertisements and marketing messages. Spend less time at malls and department stores and you’ll see fewer advertisements. Equally so and maybe more important these days, spend less time at digital stores too.
5. Configure your computer to block pop-up ads. There are no fool-proof methods for blocking advertisements on your computer, but there are some reasonable steps you can take to limit the number you see. Here are some ideas for Mac users and some ideas for Windows users.
6. Don’t ignore ads, see through them instead. There is a tendency among all of us to think that advertisements don’t influence us. We foolishly believe we are unaffected by them. Or we assume if we aren’t paying attention, they are not influencing our thoughts. But the better approach, rather than ignoring ads, is to see through them instead. See through the false promises that they offer—that their product will help you get the girl, be the life of the party, or become the envy of the neighborhood. The more you recognize how a brand is trying to subtly stir up discontent in your life, the less likely they are to succeed.
The fewer advertisements we see, the happier we are. Which, by the way, may be one of the reasons you enjoy Becoming Minimalist so much (no ads).
It is likely impossible for you to remove every advertisement from your everyday life, but there are certainly positive steps we can take to limit them—and become happier because of it.