I read an article from Straits Times under the “Review” section yesterday with great interest. It was entitled “Shopping does not bring you happiness, but a concert may”. It was a wordy article so I almost wanted to brush it aside as I was too lazy to read a lengthy article at 11.30pm. However, a quote from the article caught my eye.
The quote screamed, “Increases in material possessions may well be accompanied by a decrease in happiness. This phenomenon, termed the ‘hedonic treadmill’, says that as possessions increase, so do people’s expectations. Over time, people become less sensitized towards their possessions and require even more new possessions just to sustain the same level of happiness as before”. The quote made me think for a moment and made me interested in reading the article.
Due to mass media and advertisements, people are made to believe that their well-being and self-worth are defined by what they wear, drive and use. Therefore, consumers go after the latest gadget and things that they do not really need in their lives. They think that acquiring these items will bring them happiness. However, research has debunked this proposition by demonstrating that neither the ability to acquire nor the actual acquisition of material goods brings about sustainable increase in happiness. Instead, buying more material goods, requires even more new possessions to maintain the same level of happiness as before. This reminds me of the usage of drugs or alcohols. The more you take, the more you need to consume the next time to sustain the previous levels of “feeling good”. In gaming terms, you have “upped your level”.
So what generates sustainable happiness in us? Research has shown that experiences far outweigh material goods in generating happiness. Such experiences can be going for a spa, going to the concert, going on a holiday and dining in a chic restaurant. The reason for this is that experiences are more central to one’s identity than material goods. Such experiences also have greater social value than acquisition of material goods. Attending a concert, for example, allows interactions with other people whereas material acquisition does not. Most material possessions like buying a watch, clothes or handbags necessarily benefits only the individual without much social interaction.
NUS Business School had studied material and experiential purchases in Singapore. Consistent with past research, they observed that people were happier with experiences rather than the material goods they bought.
So, if you want to be happy, aim to have experiences like going for a walk by the beach with your loved ones, enjoying the sunset with your child or by enjoying a child’s innocent laughter instead of chasing after the latest iPad 2. Another way to experience innate peace and lasting happiness is to sit relaxed and meditate. It gives immeasurable benefits.
For a start, enjoy the following video: