In the western world we are product driven. The world revolves around selling selling selling. In your face. All the time. 10% off is thrown around so much it hardly means anything. Complete separation from commercial activities is impossible. We are going to see an advert for a product or service every day for as long as we live. Think about it.
At an average of 50 adverts per day…
+Average life expectancy = 75 ish, give or take some years depending on gender and whether you are a stunt double or Yoda.
=Number of adverts viewed in a lifetime = 1.3 Mn.
Every single one of these 1.3 million adverts is trying to sell you a lifestyle choice. They are going to convince you, however strong minded you think you are, that you need a product or service. Somehow parting with your hard earned money will buy you happiness. A new car, a house, dishwasher tablets, even James Blunt CDs can somehow buy you happiness.
It has been proven by researchers that people focused on collection and accumulation of wealth are less happy; and those who generously give to others have a higher level of satisfaction. An experiment by researchers involved human guinea pigs being given 20 pound notes and one of two options:
- Use the £20 note to buy yourself something you desire
- Use the £20 note to treat another person
At the end of the trial there was a questionnaire on satisfaction and the like. Of the people who bought a gift for someone else, 88% felt happier for giving a gift, than the volunteers who used the 20 pounds to indulge themselves. The people who had chosen to act in the interest of others, to sacrifice their own money, had an undeniably higher level of satisfaction, happiness and relaxation than the “selfish” volunteers.
In order to be happy, the single most important idea is that of inner contentment with one’s self. Only by being satisfied in your mind will you find happiness.
Contentment is the state of mind in which you don’t compare yourself to others. There is no desire to arbitrarily increase your wealth or possessions. The fact that your neighbour earns more than you does not worry you because you are happy with what you are. Desire for more than what we need us ultimately a very negative emotion. Some desires like that for world peace, for suffering to end are good desires. So not all desires are bad. Similarly, many desires for material goods are reasonable and even essential. If I need a car to get me to work, support and feed a family; then a car is fine. Unreasonable expectations, such as a 16 cylinder super car with carbon fibre bodywork can create trouble. Your situation can make a difference too. Living in a rural settlement in England creates a need for a car. The desire to want a car in a tribal village in the Brazillian rainforest, even if you have the cash, if positively unhealthy.
To justify this by saying that a material possession can bring you pleasure and satisfaction is completely unsound. Many criminals ended up in prison through actions they found satisfying and pleasurable, but by no means does that make it right. Unhealthy desire leads to a state of mind in which more and more is desired. Until eventually there will come a point when that desire cannot be fulfilled. Even the richest man in the world will not be able to have all the boys toys he wants. There is a ceiling to what is available. When that limit is reached there is a very real mental plunge. Desire leads to obtaining. But obtaining does not lead to satisfaction. I like to call this the bread maker effect. How ironic that if you buy a new break maker maker you will still desire the next highest model? A bread maker maker maker. and then a break maker maker maker maker. It can go on forever.
This advice is nicely displayed by surveys done by “Psychologies” magazine that the happiest people are those within the 35-40k bracket. For people earning above that, very interestingly, their happiness was not significantly higher. In fact in a lot of cases it was certainly lower. perhaps because of the consequences of more products being made available, and the introduction to the “break maker” effect.
The solution is to learn how to accept and be content with what we have. This is not something that can be done overnight. Like most skills it requires repeated application and practise. Perhaps that is the reason why so many people read books on self improvement and happiness. As a legacy of the capitalist society we live in, there is a belief that a product can be the answer. A product labelled self help will give you meaning out of life in return for a small amount of your money. But achieving a state of mind where there is absence from unhealthy desires takes practise, and always asking yourself the question: “do I need this?” This is why you should never go the supermarket when you’re hungry. Always have a big meal so you won’ be tempted to pick up every packet of Mcvities in isle 9. “Do I really need Hobnobs AND milk chocolate digestives?” Constantly asking yourself the question “Will this buy me happiness” is such an important consideration. And after being brought up in a capitalist culture; this change of perspective is hard. Properly properly hard.
It sounds like money is the root of all evil. Whether or not an individual is bad for having lots of money depends on how it is used. If would be wrong to say that having lots of money makes you an evil person, because money is best when it’s in the possession of content people. Money in the hands of greedy scrooges is of course no good to anyone. But money can buy water pumps in Africa, it can help to stop abuse, money can buy malaria nets and save millions of lives.
If you were to take away one thought with you, let it be the question: “Will it buy me happiness or just short term pleasure?” And always wait at least 48 hours before you give in to an impulse buy – a great way to save money.