Being Happy: How Not to Love Stuff

Do you want to live a happy life? I’ve written before about being happy, but here I want to take a different angle and look at one important cause of unhappiness: loving stuff. Many people try to fill the void within them by buying more and more things they don’t need. When new gadgets come out, they buy them. When their friend has a new car, they want it too.

But why does it happen? Why do people love stuff? The reason is that they believe it will make them happy. They believe the more stuff they have, the happier they will be. Is that true?

The answer is no. Perhaps they think they are happy, but they can actually be much happier if they do it differently. This isn’t just my opinion; scientific research supports it. I will discuss it more thoroughly below, but first let’s see some disadvantages of loving stuff:

  1. It makes your life cluttered. Each thing you have consumes not only your physical space but also your mental space. Acquiring one more thing means having one more thing to worry about.
  2. It creates wasteful spending. Buying stuff you don’t need means spending your money unnecessarily. Wouldn’t it be better if you spend it on something that’s truly useful and meaningful?
  3. It promotes materialistic point of view. The more you love stuff, the more you send the wrong message to the world. The message you’re sending is that stuff can give you happiness. As a result, more and more people around you will fall into it.
  4. It isn’t a good way to make you happy. There are better ways for that. More about it below.

So what should we do? Here are some tips on how not to love stuff:

1. Realize the negative side of stuff

When you realize the negative side of stuff (as discussed above), you will think twice before introducing more clutter into your life.

2. Realize that experiences – not stuff – contribute more to happiness

Instead of buying stuff, use your money to buy experiences. Research shows that experiences contribute more to happiness:

Another theme that has emerged in similar research is that money spent on experiences – vacations or theater tickets or meals out – makes you happier than money spent on material goods… “We generally found very consistent evidence that experiences made people happier than material possessions they had invested in,” says Van Boven.

3. Avoid impulse buying

Impulse buying is one of the main causes of acquiring too much stuff. This is something I learn firsthand. Since I love reading, I used to buy a lot of books. And guess what? Many of them end up unread. Realizing this, in recent years I become more careful when it comes to buying books. I only buy books that I’m sure I will read.

The way I avoid impulse buying is by first putting the item I want to buy into a wish list. I then wait for at least one month and see if I still want to buy it. In many cases, an item could stay in my wish list for months before I buy it.

4. Think ROI

ROI (return on investment) is a useful concept to help you minimize the number of stuff in your life. When you buy something, think of it as an investment. The question is: can you get good return on your investment? The return here isn’t financial. It’s the overall value you get from the stuff. Will it make your life considerably better? Will it give you long-term happiness? Invest your money only on things that give you good ROI.

5. Give

Giving is the ultimate way to both avoid loving stuff and make you happier. Research clearly shows the power of giving:

First, they surveyed 632 Americans on their general happiness, along with what they spent their money on, and found that higher “prosocial spending” – gifts for others and donations to charity – was indeed correlated with higher self-reported happiness. They followed this up with a more detailed look at 16 workers before and after they received a profit-sharing bonus from their company. They found that the only factor that reliably predicted which workers would be happy six to eight weeks after the bonus was their prosocial spending – the more money people spent on charity and gifts for others, the happier they were.

The conclusion of the research is clear:

Money makes you most happy if you don’t spend it on yourself.

Photo by striatic

19 Comments

  1. Great article!! Would you mind if I repost on my blog with full credits?

  2. What I do is liken an expense to travel, which is something I want to do extensively. So if a gadget costs $100 I’ll ask myself “How many days in Thailand could get me?” or “What % of that of an airfare?”

    Essentially I have to decide to give up some travel in exchange for this stuff. At times it’s worth. I bought a Kindle 2 recently for example, and it’s brilliant (and it will actually save me money because of the lower pricing + no shipping). But there’s plenty of other stuff I haven’t bought, and it feels great. 🙂

  3. Great read!

    I just wrote an article called “Always carry a wrapped gift – You never know who might need one” on my blog and it’s about the joy of giving : )

    Peace everlasting

    Emanuel

  4. Another problem with the preoccupation on stuff is the mental energy required. We spend so much time comparison shopping, maintaining, protecting, repairing and worrying about stuff.

    Buy a new car and you want to wash it and try to keep it from getting scratched. You have to make sure it is in the garage at night and you try not to leave it in the sun during the day. We become slaves to our stuff.

    It is so liberating to get rid of the clutter and focus on what is important in life. Less stuff = Better thinking!

  5. Tisha,
    You may repost it as long as there is a direct dofollow link to the original article’s page (not the homepage). I’d appreciate it if you use the article’s title as the link’s anchor text.

    David,
    That’s a good way to handle it 🙂 When you realize that you need to sacrifice something you love in order to buy stuff, you will think twice before buying it.

    Emanuel,
    I enjoy your article. I like your “gift carrier” idea 🙂

    John,
    I agree with you. It’s not just you own the stuff; in many cases the stuff owns you.

  6. This is good and simpler happier lifestyles will be achieved by a relative few who will acknowledge and live this way. The big problem is, unrestricted, the corporate machines will direct people, starting with small children, in the other direction.
    We need a movement that will make it an level playing field. Perhaps restrictions on advertising and teaching life values in the education system. Maybe the free internet will come up with something.

  7. Great article! I find buying stuff to be just a way to get some momentary gratification. But after you become used to it (and you always become used to it), then you just need more stuff.

    Even if you get a Ferrari, you may be incredibly happy right then, but 3 moths later, after habituation kicked in, it just seems a normal part of your life and it no longer makes you happy.

    Eduard

  8. […] Latumahina presents Being Happy: How Not to Love Stuff posted at Life […]

  9. Grampa Ken,
    The corporate machines are indeed a strong force in the opposite direction. It’s difficult not to love stuff when we are bombarded with ads all day long. It will be great if we can have the movement you describe.

    Eduard,
    I can attest that what you’re saying is true. In a sense, it’s like an addiction.

  10. Great post: thank you.

    Reading it, I realized that what people might be seeking when they over-accumulate is not so much more stuff as the right stuff””which usually relates to being or doing rather than to having. If they haven’t figured that out for themselves, though, they may just keep buying and collecting. In a sense, they’re using materialism to try to cover a hole that can never be filled with material goods. Sad.

  11. Hi, found this via the positive thinking blog carnival. Great post.. I need to get rid of some of my stuff!

  12. Lynda,
    That’s the sad reality happening now. I hope more and more people realize it before falling even deeper into materialism.

  13. […] presents Being Happy: How Not to Love Stuff posted at Life […]

  14. […] Latumahina presents Being Happy: How Not to Love Stuff posted at Life […]

  15. […] Latumahina presents Being Happy: How Not to Love Stuff posted at Life […]

  16. […] 2. Do only things with the most impact. Your resources are limited so invest them only on things that give you the most return. Think ROI. […]

  17. Totally agree with what you say. People, experiences and emotions are much more important than the latest game, gadget or shoes.

    But anyone have an idea what happens when you spend so much time looking for those experiences it ends up as amazing moments but with nothing in between?

  18. Milicent Mccloud
    Milicent Mccloud

    I used to be alcohol and drug dependant but when I stopped those I spent the next 13 years buying stuff that I don’t need, now all these years on I have had to pay to get this stuff removed, given lots to charity, realised that this stuff will never make me happy. What brings me true happiness is going for a walk with my dog,watching my dog enjoying herself. I look around me now and can’t see one thing that’s brought me happiness.

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