Last weekend, we watched a documentary called ‘The Minimalists’. It looked at how our modern, consumerist society is leading us to a place of extreme unhappiness and unfulfillment through a constant grasping and striving for material things.
We are lead to believe that the ultimate goal in life is to be successful and the ultimate trophy of this success is to have money – money that, through constant advertising, we are then encouraged to spend on the newest iPhone, another pair of shoes or that new car, with the promise that these new things will make us happier.
Buying that new iPhone, for example, does provide a short burst of happiness – the excitement of waiting for the new phone to arrive, the fun of opening the box and discovering the new features, showing your friends etc – but this happiness is short-lived and soon enough the phone becomes just another thing we own. It’s not long before the newer version of the phone comes out, and we are suddenly left resenting our phone, the thing that once made us happy, as it doesn’t have the latest technology or newest feature.
When we have money or have material possessions, these are often not enough and leave us striving for more.
This made me reflect on my own purchasing habits. I used to be obsessed with clothes. I would love nothing more than to spend my weekends browsing clothes shops and trying on the latest styles. I would feel so great coming home and laying out all my new purchases on the bed, planning where I would wear my newest dress. And yet, many days I would open my wardrobe and feel a sense of anxiety – would this top be appropriate? Is this dress too dressy? Why don’t I have this in black? I knew I should have got this in a smaller size etc…..ultimately, these purchases lead to a sense of unhappiness and I always ended up wanting to go out and buy more clothes as those I had were just not good enough!
This obsession with material possessions has become truly shocking in some instances- think about those black Friday videos where people are physically assaulting each other to get the latest gadget at a reduced price – forgetting their basic, human morals of kindness and compassion just so they can have that new thing! It’s just disgusting!
And what about the environmental impact all this consumption is having on our planet? Think about all the fuel needed for that same-day delivery, all the plastic packaging being thrown away!
I had my attachment to material possessions tested this week when I lost my necklace. This necklace was presented to me by my wonderful bridesmaids on my wedding day as a surprise gift from my husband to be, who I was about to marry just minutes later. When I realised I had lost it, I was distraught – this necklace means the world to me! But then after a chat with my hubby, I realised that yes, the necklace was beautiful and I loved wearing it but it is the meaning behind the necklace that really counts and I still have the memory of sheer happiness and excitement from the moment that it was given to me. I had confused the attachment I felt for what the item represents with the item itself.
We spend so much of our time working, often in jobs that are super demanding and stressful, or in some cases, jobs that we don’t enjoy, to ensure we have enough money to be able to buy the things that will enable us to have a ‘happy, successful life. We deserve to buy that new dress as we worked so hard for it! We need that latest giant TV as we deserve to relax in front of it at the end of a long day.
Take a moment and think – what value/purpose do our possessions actually have – do they actually bring us joy or happiness? Do we need to buy that nice, natural wood kitchen table when the one we have works perfectly well and is way too big for just the two of us anyway? Am I buying this just for the sake of spending the money I have worked so hard to earn? Will that new purchase actually make me happy, or am I striving for something more? Is there something else missing in my life?
We are often scared to be sat, alone with our thoughts. We feel a constant need to be ‘busy’ – always checking our phones, browsing social media etc- we always have something to distract us from how we truly think and feel. I am not saying that all material things are bad or meaningless, just that If we were more mindful of our spending/buying habits, would we actually want that nice new ornament for the front window? Do we need that new celebrity-endorsed perfume? Do we actually know what we want anymore?
Perhaps this constant yearning for material things is actually a sign that we are failing to focus on the more important things in our lives: with friends, family, being in nature, love, our health etc – perhaps these are things we should be using as our measure of what makes a ‘successful’ life?