Materialism is sold to us as the primary way to find happiness. We live in a consumer society gone mad. But it’s experiences that count.
It’s almost impossible not to fall into the trap of materialism. You’ve got to be made of strong stuff not to let it seduce you from time to time.
You can try turning off the TV and be paying no heed to commercials, but when you step foot outside, into a world consumed by consumerism, it won’t be five minutes before you begin to feel bad about yourself.
Nevertheless, the idea that possessions are the way to find happiness is an illusion. A very clever illusion, one that never fails to seduce us, no matter how much we rationalize, but an illusion all the same.
When I was a teenager and I’d get some new clothes, I used to fantasize in the mirror about meeting people. I imagined them suddenly having a new-found admiration and respect for me for the person I’d ‘become’.
Of course, I was always disappointed because, of course, nothing of the sort ever happened. I was still shy, childlike, and semi-mute – and a new pair of jeans or boots wasn’t going to fool anyone that I’d suddenly become ‘interesting’.
The truth is that you can’t find happiness in material things. It’s experiencing that bring us happiness. Here are some of the reasons why:
1. Your experiences make you what you are, not your things.
A young man might argue:“if I’m going around in a Mercedes and a nice Italian suit, I’m going to get more female attention”
And a young woman might argue:“If I have hair extensions, a boob job, manicured nails, cosmetics and nice clothes, I will get more male attention”
And neither of them would be wrong.
But, mark this, getting attention doesn’t equal happiness. And your material accessories make no fundamental difference to your personal charm unless someone is actively looking for the material accessories and not the person who possesses them.
You might get looks on the street, you might even get more chances to meet more people, but you won’t find happiness. Your experiences, however, do genuinely play a part in transforming you and are guaranteed to make you more interesting to other people.
Experiences play a huge part in forming your character, your skillset, your humor, your wisdom, your intelligence – everything that makes you what you are. Your experiences are what make you the person that people want to stick close to.
2. Experiences enrich you for a lifetime and not just for a season.
As we all know, you can get a big rush from a new material possession and a feeling. For about 10 minutes – and then you realize that nothing changed in your life at all.
After a month or so, you’re already bored with what you bought. Now you’re onto the next fantasy of achieving everlasting beauty, happiness, and glory by buying the mascara you saw in a TV commercial last night.
Experiences, however, last a lifetime – even the bad ones.
The wisdom that they give you and the stories you can tell. The laughter that you share with others over the ups and downs of fortune that you’ve been through. These are the things that make you memorable and lovable to others.
They’re the things that make you unique, and no one can take them from you. They never get old, they never get boring. They’re the gift that keeps on giving, all the way into old age.
3. You can learn from your experiences, but never from your things.
Even the very worst experiences you can have come with a bonus. You learn a lot from them. Especially from the bad ones.
In fact, the bad experiences that you’ve had can become the most charming things about you. We can all think of someone who’s been through a lot. It’s their personality that gives them the charisma that makes us feel warmth for them. Experiences make up most of that personality.
Material possessions can be useful to us. Those technological advances that make our lives so much easier and that help us connect with others, for example. We can’t deny that there are many professions in which some piece of technology helps channel human capabilities.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that we should give up all material possessions and move back into the forests. However, there’s a big difference between a means of actually creating something and useless goods whose purpose is supposed to raise a person’s status.
It’s what you can do with an object that is important, not the object itself.
4. It feels good if people want to be with you for your experiences…
…Whereas if someone wants to be with you for your possessions – not so much.
This is because you know that your experiences are something that is part and parcel of your being. You know that they’ve intertwined with your personality in such a way as to form the individual that you are. If people want to be with you because of what you possess, it’s ultimately something that takes away from your self-esteem.
That’s why wealthy people often become so cynical about the people around them, especially members of the opposite sex.
They start to see all human relationships as exploitative. It makes them suspicious and bitter.
But had those same people invested in accumulating experiences that made them interesting and compelling as individuals, rather than in accumulating possessions, they’d see things very differently. As it is, the people in their lives become merely part of the collection of possessions they own.
Do you agree that experiences, rather than material things, are the way to find happiness?