Material possessions won’t bring lasting happiness

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:

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5 thoughts on “Material possessions won’t bring lasting happiness

  1. Very true, and I agree! For me, it’s always been the experiences which I have treasured, with loved ones and friends alike. To this end, I have kept my material possessions minimal, while piling up on the experiential aspects of my life. Some examples:-

    1) Enjoying a good rock concert – by attending the Retrolicious Concert held at Fort Canning Park last year, I was able to still recall the memories, clapping, applause and the “live” mood there. Priceless, no doubt!

    2) Going for a holiday – Recently went on a trip to Phuket and the R&R enjoyed was really good! It’s something I will always remember.

    3) Monthly Massage Sessions – I go for spa and massage sessions together with my wife. A good method of marital bonding by engaging in similar activities, and a relaxing way to unwind after a tiring week @ work.

    4) Walking/Cycling – The usual walks in the park and to nearby shopping malls are also good for family bonding and interaction with fellow human beings. Sometimes we also meet other families with kids and seeing them interact with each other is so amusing. Sure beats seeing kids play on their iPhone/iPad all day, to the exclusion of everyone!

    So these are the ways I enjoy myself, without expensive materials items like a car, branded goods or even a smartphone. Of course, some may argue that a car helps you with good experiences (e.g. exotic places to visit/eat in Singapore, or to watch beautiful sunrises), but one must weigh the costs against the benefits.

  2. Misery begins when things that makes you happy starts to change or cease to exist. Happiness begins when things that makes you miserable starts to change or cease to exists. Its an endless cycle.

  3. Yes, you own material things today, they will not last forever.
    Your happy memories with your love ones will.
    So make them happy whenever you can.
    The heart must be in the right place before the head can think.

  4. Oh I can’t resist to tell you i love babies and childrens’ laughter very much. Because they are really expressing pure, innocence, happiness. They really makes me happy.

  5. Hi MW,

    I’m a also firm believer in not going after material possessions. I don’t spend much myself and keep spending to necessities only.

    Hi LC,

    I believe we can be happy no matter what happens. We just have to re-frame the “negative” situation and see it in a positive light.

    Hi temperament,

    Yes material possessions don’t last. We came to this world empty-handed and we will leave empty-handed as well. I love babies’ laughter too as they portray innocence and pure love.

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