Materialism is often seen as a dirty word, however, no matter who you are it’s always pleasant to some extent to have nice things in your life. The true definition of materialism is when someone starts to value things over people or positive experiences.
Why do we Want to Buy Things?
You’ll see many people mention the benefits of “retail therapy” and many tend to associate purchasing items with being happy. However studies have shown that just seeing a nice item sparks the positive brainwaves we have when buying it, so there’s no real therapeutic benefit in parting with your money.
Some theories as to why we do this are based on Darwin’s theory of evolution. As natural resources are limited then it makes sense for us to stock up on things and secure our lives. Another theory believes that a constant desire to want more keeps us more alert, meaning we have higher chances of survival.
Does Buying Things Really Make us Happy?
When it comes down to it this retail therapy and acquiring of goods doesn’t really do much for us in terms of happiness. As mentioned above, just looking at a pair of stunning designer heels will give you the same pleasure as buying and owning them.
Several studies have shown that we actually become unhappy when we start to put too much value on the items we have in life. These studies have been carried out on all kinds of people to the very poor to the very wealthy. Time and again it showed that those who put less value on items were usually a lot happier than those who put more value on items and those who constantly compare and compete to have the best things.
Feelings Are Better Than Items
It’s shown that experiences we have which produce strong memories or feelings are actually a lot better for us than objects. For example, earlier this year I really wanted an iPad (I had no major need for it, I just wanted one) so I saved up and bought one. I really liked it and used it quite a bit but that trailed off and if I look at it now I don’t feel anything, it’s just an iPad.
Compare this to the day out I had with my family around the same time. We went to a large safari park in our new car (my boyfriend had just passed his test). It was amazing and when I think back on it and look at photos from that time it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside! The experience (which didn’t cost much at all) far outweighs the non-feelings I get from the iPad.
The Difference Between Need and Want
Now all of the above doesn’t mean you have to go and sell all your possessions and live a life devoid of objects that may make life easier or bring pleasure now and then. However it can be wise to often wonder if you want something opposed to needing it. With my iPad purchase, did I need it? Not really, however there were some practical applications that have helped me with work and recreation and it does get used. However I have bought things in the past, shoes and dresses mainly that sit and gather dust very soon after I have bought them. I certainly didn’t need them and often find myself donating them to charity.
Once we realise the difference between the two then thought processes can begin to change. You want a £1200 laptop just because yours is a little slow? Why not book a family holiday and redecorate your child’s room together? That will create so many happy memories that an object cannot create for you.
How to Look Beyond Objects
Focus on life, think about memories, they will be based on feelings, people and places, not items. Acknowledge people for the contributions they have made and may still make in your life, there’s no value that can be put onto them and the way they make you feel.
Do wonderful things for others and the planet, make your actions ones that make other people happy, give them memories and feelings that money can’t buy and you’ll start to realise that objects can be useful but they ultimately won’t make you happier.