More isn’t always better

One of my spring cleaning projects is usually to go through everything and donate things I no longer use. It’s funny that I have less stuff than most people, and yet, I still feel I have too much and it drives me crazy. I do not understand how people feel like they need to hang on to so many possessions. I’m surprised they haven’t succumbed to “stuffocation” — being suffocated by stuff. I definitely admire the minimalists.

The truth is that things do not make you happy. There are studies about this, such as happiness inventories of people in other countries who have less than us, and they usually rate higher on the scale of satisfaction with life. In fact, the more a country resembles the U.S., the higher the rate of emotional distress among its citizens.

Yes, money and possessions are useful and make one’s life easier but only up to a point. After that the excess is simply superfluous. There is even a psychological term for this: The law of diminishing marginal utility. Basically, this means that the first cup of coffee is better than the second. By extension, the third and fourth give even less pleasure.

So these things are good, and we can enjoy them, but more often isn’t better. Once you have what you need then that should be enough. (Full disclosure of my own hypocrisy — I’m writing this after multiple cups of tea. Even I need to be reminded of this message!) Pursuing more, and putting faith in it making you happier, will lead to disappointment.

How did we get here? Back in the 1920s, we were at a crossroads. The factories were producing what we needed; in fact, there were more goods than there were consumers. The obvious solution would be to have people work less. Everyone could have had more time to spend with family and friends, engaging in leisure activities.

Instead, the advertising sector boomed. They realized they could encourage folks to buy more. They emphasized style, whereby things would quickly look dated and need to be replaced — even if they were still functional. This was a deliberate manipulation of the American consumer, and one that has continued to gain momentum ever since.

The problem is that mass production coupled with mass consumption results in mass depression. The solution? Choose creating experiences over having more stuff. When reflecting on their lives, people are fonder of their memories than they are of their possessions. Doing things makes you happier than having things.

Besides, experiences bring us closer to other people. Activities are usually done with others so that is one form of connection. Another is histories that are shared with loved ones. And even third parties who are not involved are more interested in hearing stories about your adventures than listening to you talk about what you own.

We are each responsible for our own happiness. We need to listen to our hearts and not the world of marketing that does not look out for our best interests. If we continue to buy into the lie that having more is better than it is our own fault. We must realize that there is a different and better way, but we may have to blaze a trail to get there. But what a great tale to share with others.