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Material Possessions And The Pursuit Of Happiness

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Over the decades, Americans have become very materialistic. Falling prey to corporate advertisements, and the desire to fit in with society, we have taken shopping to a whole new level. We treasure our material possessions and even judge others based on their own material wealth. The question we must ask ourselves is, will having the best of everything or more than we need ever bring us true happiness? We all pursue happiness, but we are not going to find it at the department store.

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As Americans, we mindlessly spend money on things that play no role in our happiness. In a book titled, The High Price of Materialism, the author states that “the more materialistic values are at the center of our lives, the more our quality of life is diminished”. Yet we are willing to work long hours and wear ourselves down to accomplish material wealth. Instead of finding happiness in these objects, some of us later realize we did not need them in the first place. Overconsumption affects us in many ways.

Most of us probably do not realize how much we turn to shopping for happiness, but we do it all the time. We shop for Christmas, birthdays, and even out of boredom. Americans feel the need to fill the void of loneliness and other emotions with unnecessary shopping sprees. Some of us are so concerned about having the latest and greatest new items to hit the market, that we allow ourselves to go into debt to do so. The key is to find a balance between what we really need and what we do not. No two feet need sixty pairs of shoes.

An article titled, Why Buying Stuff Won’t Make You Happy, states that “we’ve been convinced to think that buying stuff is the only way to prove to ourselves and others our worth, to such an extent that we look down upon those who have less and look up to those who have more” (Archon). Buying a new sports car or a designer handbag to add to your collection may contribute to temporary happiness, but it will not last long. It may even make you feel like you are better than others. When it’s all said and done, we are left with a little less cash and cluttered homes. Americans must realize that even treasured possessions will never lead to true happiness.

Bad shopping habits cost us more than money. “We don’t just buy things with money, we buy them with hours from our lives”. Instead of spending quality time with friends and family making memories, we are spending our time working. Personally, I do not find happiness in working too much. We are more likely to find happiness in spending time with our loved ones than we are admiring our possessions.

Shopping more than needed can lead to serious debt. In 2017, “outstanding consumer revolving debt- mostly credit card debt- hit an all-time peak of $1.021 trillion in June, according to the federal reserve”. No one can say for sure how much of this debt is from nonessential purchases, but I think we can all agree that it is a good portion of it. Debt causes an immense amount of stress and cutting back on excessive purchases could certainly make life easier. I cannot imagine anyone finds true happiness while in debt from buying things we never needed in the first place.

We are not going to find happiness in any physical possession. We could, however, try to seek happiness by helping others. Instead of buying things that will sit around collecting dust, we could use our hard-earned money to do good in the world. We could help feed the hungry or help a charity that provides other resources to the less fortunate. The secret to our happiness could be creating happiness in others.

I do not believe we are completely to blame for our love of shopping. Corporate advertisements play a key role in why we over shop. In an Internet article I read on the Psychology Today website, the author Philip Graves says, “the fact of the matter is that your unconscious mind is often driving your behavior as a consumer: under the influence of basic evolutionary drives and tactics of retailers, it’s easy to feel compelled to buy something that later doesn’t find a place in your life”. The main goal of corporations is to convince us to buy these things. To change our ways, we must first overcome the psychological impulses that cause us to buy these first place.

We are setting a bad example for our children by trying to buy their happiness as well as our own. We purchase toys and gifts for our children when they are feeling down, as rewards, and even for no reason at all. By doing this, we are reinforcing the idea that their happiness can, in fact, be bought. Children lose appreciation for things when they are constantly given to them. This mentality continues to follow our children into adulthood and they think that they need things to be happy.

Our social relationships are also undervalued when we focus on buying happiness. According to a study led by psychology Professor Leaf Van Boven, “people who pursue happiness through material possessions are liked less by their peers than people who pursue happiness through life experiences”. He later goes on the say that “having quality social relationships is one of the best predictors of happiness, health and well-being”. The study aims to prove how focusing on material objects instead of life experiences affects our social relationships. Instead of seeking happiness in objects, we need to focus on finding happiness in more meaningful ways.

Our society has become so obsessed with material possessions that we have lost touch with what really matters in life. No amount of stuff we buy will ever amount to anything more than temporary happiness. It is time that we stop working so much to pay for things we do not need and focus on more important matters. We need to clean out our closets, declutter our lives, and start setting a good example for the future generations to come. We must realize that there is more to life than being happy with our latest purchase.

03 December 2019

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