It is safe to say that consumerism is a fact of life for many of us these days. Even if you do not willingly participate in the constant buying and selling of modern life, you are still definitely involved.
We are all surrounded by pitches and advertising almost every waking minute of every day. There’s almost always someone that is trying to sell us something when we’re walking through town, watching TV, or just surfing the net. The desire to want things, to own things, to possess material objects is constantly hammered into us as we go through life.
But sometimes, enough is enough. At some point, we should be happy with what we have, and stop wanting more all the time. But how do you stop wanting more? How to want less and be perfectly happy about it?
Let’s find out.
The more you want it, the less you like it
A fascinating study conducted by Uzma Khan found that when people were offered a reward of some kind, a watch for example, which they were then denied, their desire to get the reward increased. Sounds fairly unsurprising, right?
But here’s the kicker. When those same people were then given the reward they had been denied, even though they wanted it more, they ended up liking it less!
The impact of wanting something more
The people in the study who had been denied the watch the first time around wanted it more than those who got it. But after they had it, they were more likely to get rid of it in the end.
In fact, in a similar test the people who had been denied their reward were 3 times more likely to get rid of it than those who got it the first time around.
So, what does this mean?
The dark side of materialism
Well, in this age of ceaseless advertising, the realization that the things you want might not be the things you will actually like having is a valuable one.
Longing for material things can cause us to feel that we are incomplete or missing out on something, which is not particularly good for our mental health. But ownership of ‘things’ does not necessarily equate to happiness, and even when you do get something, it might not be as worth it as you thought.
This article on materialism has plenty of examples to show you how it can have a negative impact on your happiness!
What to do instead? Spend your money on experiences or time spent with loved ones. The memories will last a lifetime and will almost certainly keep you happier for longer.
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you plane and theatre tickets, and those things might help in the long run.
Things like that marble sculpture of your cat probably won’t…
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Enough is enough
For those of us lucky enough to live privileged lives where we do not need to worry about food, water, and shelter, the notion of ‘enough’ is perhaps slightly foreign. What does it mean to have ‘enough’?
- Is not dying enough?
- Is having a nice house and a dog enough?
- What about that flatscreen TV and your $100,000 car?
Here’s the answer.
If you are healthy, safe, and happy, then you have enough. Simple as that.
Being happy and healthy is enough
Learning to be content with what we already have is an excellent way to avoid gaining yet more stuff.
If you realize that you’re happy with what you already have, why would you want to add to it? Seems like a waste of money. Money that could be far better spent on time and experiences with loved ones.
How to want less
Being happy with enough isn’t as easy as it sounds, is it? I don’t know about you, but I always have my eye on the newest video game or some fancy item of clothing.
How can we learn to be content? How can we teach ourselves to be happy with “enough”?
How do we stop wanting more, and start being okay with wanting less? Here are 3 tips that I find really effective!
1. Gratitude journal
I love this idea. Gratitude journals are, in case you haven’t already guessed, journals in which you record all of the things you are happy about and grateful for in your life.
By making ourselves think about the positivity around us, we can overcome our natural human instinct to focus only on the negatives. Not only will this make us generally more content with what we currently have, but this method of journaling has been shown by studies at Harvard to generally increase happiness and well-being, even encouraging beneficial habits such as exercising!
Imagine that?! You write in a book every day and suddenly you want to exercise. It’s like magic. Except it’s not. It’s science!
2. Reflection and meditation
In almost every article I write for Tracking Happiness, I find myself suggesting that meditation might be a beneficial addition to your life. It is a practice that seems to have boundless benefits made all the more impressive by its ease of access. Anyone can meditate.
Meditation is not a cure-all for mental well-being, but it’s a pretty good place to start. If journaling isn’t really your thing, just try to take the time every now and then to stop, take a breath and really think about all of the positives in your life.
Just taking time out of your day to notice the state of your life will help you to recognize what you have and what you actually, genuinely need.
Often, you will find that you already have everything that you desperately require to live a happy and fulfilled life. That realization alone is incredibly powerful.
3. Manage your expectations and desires
Sometimes we want things without actually thinking about why we want them or even knowing what it is we expect to gain from them once we have them.
As a result, it is absolutely vital that we question our motives for wanting things in the first place. Why do you want to be wealthy? Do you actually have a plan for all that money or do you just want it for the sake of having it? What is actually the point of your desire to be rich?
These are the sorts of questions that we need to be asking ourselves on a daily basis if we want to know how to be happy with less.
Realizing that the things you want are not actually that important to you, or that you don’t really have any reason for wanting them can be a powerful experience that might change your relationship with material things and ownership of superfluous items.
After all, it’s easy to feel like you need something if you never actually think about why you need it. Amazingly, wanting less can be largely achieved just by being more thorough in our examinations of our own desires and expectations.
This is a problem that you can, quite literally, think your way out of.
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We all want some things that we probably don’t need, be it a new phone, a nice dress or a whole kingdom just to ourselves, castle and all (come on, you know you want one).
In the end, wanting things is a perfectly natural and normal part of being human, as I’m sure any alien will tell you.
But when we want too much all the time, it can start to have a negative effect on our mental health. We can begin to feel that our lives are incomplete and, perhaps, unsuccessful.
By being grateful for what we have and taking time to appreciate all the positives in our lives, we can help to stave off those negative feelings before they have too much of an impact on our well-being and happiness.