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Does consumerism actually make you happy?

In an attempt to create the somewhat idealized image Hollywood and the media give of consumerism, an American developmental psychologist led a unique research project. There, 165 households with a net worth of $25 million were asked to complete an anonymous survey regarding their relationship with money.

Interestingly, it turned out that while money made many areas of life easier for these people, it made other areas more difficult, hence in the form of anxiety about their children, insecurity about their relationships, and fear of being isolated from others.

So most of us have heard that money can't buy happiness, but this research shows that while money can make life easier in some ways, it can make things more difficult in other ways.

The trends that govern our modern society today

When it comes to the desire to buy and have more things, there are mainly two concepts that are talked about: materialism and consumerism.

  1. Materialism can be defined as an excessive pursuit of material goods and possessions. This is often seen as a status symbol in society. Materialists are people who want to show off their wealth by buying expensive things and having a lot of money left over for savings.
  2. Materialism has been around for centuries, but the rise of consumerism has made it more widespread than ever before. Consumerism is where people are encouraged to buy more and more things, whether they need them or not, because they will make them happier than not having them at all.

Materialism is therefore often associated with consumerism, which revolves around the idea that happiness can be achieved through the consumption of goods and services. For young people, this comes especially in the form of a desire to have the coolest and most expensive brand clothes, the latest iPhones, or the fanciest bicycles. For adults, it could be a brand new car, boat, or cabin for men, and jewelry or clothes for women.

And while research has shown that materialism affects happiness to a certain extent, in the sense that you have enough of what you need most, it is easy to go past the point where you stop getting more pleasure out of the things you buy.

Long-term happiness is not found in more things

In the book The How of Happiness explains psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky that we all have a "set point for happiness." This means that despite changes in our material prosperity, prosperity or adversity, we will naturally return to a certain happiness set point determined by our genes. In addition, it means that even if we get a temporary increase in joy when we buy new things, we will eventually get used to them and return to our original level of happiness.

For some, this can be a somewhat bleak outlook on life, as it makes it seem like there is nothing you can do to affect how happy and satisfied you are. But Sonja's research also shows that some of the things that hair much to be said for our satisfaction in the long term, is, among other things, that we have friends and family who care about us, a job we find meaningful, and leisure projects that engage us.

Can one be satisfied with less consumerism?

The Western world has thus become engulfed in consumerism, and it is difficult to escape the materialistic lifestyle that we have been conditioned to live. But we don't have to be a part of this. We can make a conscious decision to live a less materialistic lifestyle and reduce our needs.

One step in the right direction could be to place everything you are not currently using in a mini warehouse. This will make it easier to detach from much of what you once needed, and want to keep, but no longer need. 

Many have already made major changes in their habits to "live on less," and have discovered that they actually have more peace of mind and genuine joy than when they are constantly chasing the latest and greatest.

For those of you who also want to try to live more with less, you will find many simple tips on our website sustainability blog.

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