Shopping stimulates a rush of happiness and dopamine, which can create an addictive habit. Maybe it was the buzz of the purchase, looking forward to that shiny new thing arriving, or the satisfaction of a good shopping spree. Whatever my reasons, that moment of buying stuff felt really good. Unfortunately the happiness never lasted long. Because there was always a new upgrade, fancier features, new styles, more things that felt required to be purchased to keep the buzz going. Buying more stuff didn’t actually make me happy, but I bought it anyway.

I didn’t want to buy all the stuff money can buy of course

There was nothing wrong with buying things that I needed, but I did put more effort into nurturing my spending habits than I did on creating a solid relationship with things that really mattered. I lost myself to the addictive temporary fix that buying things makes you feel. And whilst I bought more – spending money I didn’t always have – I acquired a growing pile of things I didn’t really need.

My wardrobe was stuffed with clothes I’d never worn, my kitchen housed various contraptions I’d used once and not again. The new car cost an absolute fortune and buying new tires or diesel to get me from A to B required a small loan (plus it lost its value almost instantaneously upon purchase.) I had jewellery I’d likely never wear. Random pieces of old furniture I’d bought feeling inspired to upcycle one day. Bags that had never seen the light of day. Shoes worn on one occasion before finding their permanent home in the back of a closet.

Owning stuff didn’t instantly make life good, however it felt like it kind of should have

Having a fancy car, big house, six different brands of watches on the bedside table, that new dress, another gadget to add to the collection, it feels as if life will be altogether a bit better with these things, doesn’t it? That’s an aspiration we must all have deep down; to be financially secure and have everything we need. Perhaps my little habit of buying stuff was in part, a deep rooted desire to give the appearance of security, having achieved and being successful? It’s a nice illusion. One that media messaging really plays into.

Media messaging gives off this impression that money and material possessions are the gateway to success

Averagely, a person sees over 5000 advertisements a day and every single one says the same thing; our lives will be so much better, with that thing in it. The repeated message, is that the more stuff we have, the less unhappy we’ll be. But it never seemed to work this way for me.

I suppose when is enough, enough? At what point do you stop spending and say, ‘I have ample now to consider myself happy and content’. Because I couldn’t seem to stop my spending spree’s, and I didn’t feel altogether better after a new purchase. Or not in a way that was long lived, anyway. Maybe in part because everything we absorb; from these adverts, to influencers, TV shows, to general mass media, it all gives the impression that what people have, who people are, possibly isn’t ever going to be enough.

You just need to purchase a few more things

Having more, surely must be the way to feel satisfied? Don’t be happy with less. Don’t ever be happy with just enough. Because what you have is already out of fashion, out of trend, and needs updating ASAP! And with that purchase, you can be better, happier and more socially accepted. This, is pretty toxic. The whole selling us mere humble customers not only products, but that there is real emotional value in that purchase. And I totally bought into it. Heck, surely more stuff would make me feel good, right? More certainly sounds better than less or just, enough.

Tying in quite nicely – for the seller of said products – is the social status aspect

Which is now deeply connected to purchase and acquiring more things. Not only do we need more for success and to be on the right pathway to ‘The American Dream’. But our friends and family will admire us for it. There is a heck of a lot of value placed in the purchases we make. More stuff, equals a higher social status, and that can’t not mean personal happiness with all that social acceptance via impressing other people, right?

In all honesty, I think this is fucking terrible for our quality of wellbeing and mental health. Or maybe it was just for mine. Because I ended up chasing after materialistic things, feeling that happiness would be found through another purchase. If told repeatedly that spending will make it so, I shall spend! But it didn’t do the trick, it was never enough, and I didn’t ever get to that magical ‘feel happy’ place through my spending. However I did successfully purchase a load of shit I didn’t really need, and grew more anxious at my spiralling outgoings.

Messing with important values

Research shows that people who are orientated towards extrinsic goals such as glamour, fortune and fame, are more likely to experience anxiety, isolation, depression and lower wellbeing than those who place importance on intrinsic goals, like relationships, personal growth and contributing to the wider community.

Also if high importance is placed on image and popularity, competitiveness comes hand in hand, which can then damage relationships. Because we begin to treat people as competitors, by directly comparing what other people have and believing that we need better. It creates an internal discontent that’s never feels satisfied with any spends or gains. Also making it hard for people to be genuinely happy for anyone else’s success when we deep down, envy it a little.

I mislabelled things and objects as the important stuff

My measure of success was focussed on extrinsic goals. But then I got divorced and lost pretty much everything I’d bought and owned. All of it gone. I felt really sad about it at first. Then I realized, it’s actually the simplest things that mattered the most.

Time with friends, a great coffee catch up, focussing on my wellbeing, a hug from my family, doing a good deed, being kind to someone, getting out into nature. The things that cost little to no money. That was the good stuff. The simple moments that helped me on my way to feeling happy more than buying something ever did. So at the end of my marriage I walked away with a mere small van of items. But I’d gained an entirely new perspective; what I owned, didn’t matter as much as I thought it had.

“We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t know.”

— Dave Ramsey

Materialism is an untamed beast

The problem is, materialism appears to be selling us happiness, when it isn’t selling that at all. We are constantly exposed to clever marketing strategies and advertising that plays into our natural desires for security and success. Telling us that materialistic pursuits are deeply important, and creating this false mentality that possessions are the key to happiness. Maintaining a fantasy that more will be enough, that success and happiness can be yours too if you just purchase that next thing, whilst it’s also telling us that more isn’t ever enough at all. And when we purchase that next item, once that brief boost subsides, we can be left feeling pretty damn shitty about everything else because our emotional needs may have been side-lined in the process.

It feels like no coincidence that we are living in a time of economic success like no other previous, therefore have more money to spend and obtain things, yet if you look at any of the data on mental health and wellbeing, people are more depressed than they’ve ever been before too. In a time where obtaining things is easier, there appears to be a spiritual crisis happening under the surface.

I bought and bought, way past the limits of what I should have been spending

I liked to buy stuff and felt it was the answer. But did I feel any happier for doing it? Absolutely not. Sure, I liked the rush at the time of clicking on my online basket, however it didn’t ever last. So I got stuck in a continuous stream of intake to keep the short term boosts going. I ended up on purchase on repeat. Trying to maintain the addictive high that can only be given with the next hit – buying something else. And this cycle of buying more things is actually linked to increased dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation, unhappiness and low self-worth. Is it any wonder that buying more stuff had quite the opposite affect of making me happier?

The fight against materialism is in fact an all-out battle

Businesses want our money and we simply want the dream of a happy life. They market the possibilities of a thriving lifestyle via material possessions. And gradually we end up losing ourselves in a culture dominated with look, style, comparisons, better stuff, fancier stuff. More things and then some more again. But more will never ever be enough. And I don’t think psychological harmony is ever obtained through spending alone. It just becomes a continuous cycle to reach the advertised goal. All whilst our wellbeing suffers, and intrinsic values get lost in the pursuit of materialistic gains. If materialism continues to win, we all psychologically lose.

Do you agree or disagree entirely with this blog? I’d love to hear your comments.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.

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