“If you make a habit of buying things you do not need, you will soon be selling things you do.” —Filipino Proverb
Our experiences hint at it. Studies confirm it.
Buying material things don’t make us happy.
The pursuit and purchase of physical possessions will never fully satisfy our desire for happiness. It may result in temporary joy for some, but the happiness found in buying a new item rarely lasts longer than a few days. Researchers even have a phrase for this temporary fulfillment: retail therapy.
There are many reasons buying more material things won’t make us happy.
9 Reasons Buying Material Things Won’t Make You Happy
They all begin to fade. All possessions are temporary by nature. They look shiny and new in the store. But immediately, as soon as the package is opened, they begin to perish, spoil, or fade.
There is always something new right around the corner. New models, new styles, new improvements, and new features. From clothes and cars to kitchen gadgets and technology, our world moves forward. And planned obsolescence makes sure our most recent purchase will be out of use sooner rather than later.
Each purchase adds extra worry to our lives. Every physical item we bring into our lives represents one more thing that can be broken, scratched, or stolen.
Possessions require maintenance. The things we own require time, energy, and focus. They need to be cleaned, organized, managed, and maintained. And as a result, they often distract us from the things that truly do bring us lasting happiness.
Our purchases cost us more than we realize. In stores, products are measured in dollars and cents. But as Henry David Thoreau once said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” We don’t buy things with money, we buy them with hours from our lives.
We discover other people aren’t all that impressed. Subconsciously (and sometimes even consciously), we expect our newest purchases will impress other people. They will notice our new car, computer, jacket, or shoes. But most of the time, they are less impressed than we think. Instead, most of them are too busy trying to impress you with their newest purchase.
Someone else always has more. The search for happiness in possessions is always short-lived because it is based on faulty reasoning that buckles under its own weight. If happiness is found in buying material things and more stuff, those with more will always be happier. The game can never be won.
Shopping does not quench our desire for contentment. Contentment is never found in the purchase of more stuff. Our overflowing closets and drawers stand as proof. No matter how much we get, it’s never enough.
Experiences make us happier than possessions. All research points to the fact there are far more effective way to find happiness: enjoying life-changing experiences, for example.
And 1 Thing that Might
Adyashanti, the American-born spiritual teacher, offers a theory as to why the acquisition of new possessions provides only a temporal feeling of happiness. He explains it this way:
When we make a purchase and/or get what we want, we are temporarily happy and fulfilled. But the reason for happiness is not because we got what we wanted, but because for a brief period of time, we stopped wanting, and thus we experience peace and happiness.
On the topic of buying stuff, his thoughts are helpful. And I have repeated his theory dozens of times in private conversations. Of course, the natural conclusion of this thinking is to limit our desires and wants—to find peace and happiness by not wanting.
But for me, this conclusion falls short.
The goal of minimalism is not to remove desire entirely from my life. Instead, the goal of minimalism is to redirect my desires.
There are valuable pursuits available to us: love, justice, faith, compassion, contribution, redemption, just to name a few. These should be pursued with great fervor. But far too often, we trade the pursuit of lasting fulfillment for temporary happiness. We can do better. We can dream bigger.
Redirect your desires toward lasting pursuits. Find happiness there.
You will never find the right things looking in the wrong places. (tweet that)