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Stuff and Happiness – The Inverse Correlation

We earn more, have more, and do more today than ever…but we’re still not happy. In fact, according to the NORC, we’re even less happy than we were 50 years ago – long before smartphones, Facebook, and the now ever-so-common McMansion we call our home.

Stuff and Happiness – The Inverse Correlation

From the outside looking in, we’ve got it all. We’ve got clean water everywhere we go, a wide variety of affordable cuisines, cheap clothing, shelter that’s far bigger than necessary, and we’ve got the answers to all the world’s questions right at our fingertips. Life should be more fulfilling than ever.

But it’s not.

From the inside looking out, we’ve got nothing. We don’t have an 80 inch 3D curved television. Our boat is a far cry from the 70 foot yacht that we truly desire. And our car is of the simple domestic variety – pretty boring compared to that flashy Benz in our neighbor’s driveway.

stuff and happinessWhy Do We Want So Badly?

While we may look like we’ve got everything, our minds tell us that what we’ve got is crap and that if we just have that one great thing, we’ll finally be happy.

So, we plan, we save, and we buy that thing. Life. Is. Awesome…..for 2 weeks. And then we feel the same again….or maybe even worse.

Why is it that we want so many things so often? What is driving this want?

1) Improved marketing

Fifty years ago, marketing consisted of billboards and storefront signs. If you didn’t leave the house, you really didn’t see too much that you’d long for.

Today, we’re bombarded with marketing. On our TV, on the radio, on the highway, and all over our cell phone. Every moment of the day we’re shown things that we do not have along with the promise that it will make us happier and more popular than ever.

Marketing has really stepped up their game in the past 50 years, and our thirst for stuff is ever growing.

2) Stuff is more accessible

Want a car, a TV, and a new lawn mower, but you only have $50 in the bank? No problem! Just sign a paper at the dealership for the car, and swipe your credit card for the TV and lawn mower. Done!

Thanks to credit, our desire for stuff has gone up because we’re actually able to buy it now! Can we truly afford it? Of course not, but that’s not stopping us from bringing all that stuff home.

3) Our purpose is fading

Why are you on this earth? What is it you were meant to do?

With all of our gadgets and gizmos, nobody thinks about life’s purpose anymore. We just jump from one social outlet to the next, giving ourselves minor spikes in happiness. This gets us through each day, but continually leaves us wanting more.

If we actually took time to reflect and think for ourselves for a change, we’d understand what makes us tick. We’d want less and experience true happiness more often.

How Do We Stop Our Wanting and Increase Our Happiness?

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see it’s not the answer.” – Jim Carrey

We want, so we buy.

And then we want more, so we buy more.

And then that’s still not enough, so we keep buying more, buying bigger, and buying better.

The continued wanting never ceases. We’re never content. And we actually end up feeling more empty than when we started the journey with nothing.

The want for stuff is a curse. So how can we stop our wanting? How can we slow down and actually enjoy what we have?

1) Remind yourself how good you’ve got it

Say it out loud:

  • “My car is such a luxury. It starts up every day, it gets me to work and back, and it hardly ever has problems.”
  • “This house is amazing. It’s a three bedroom, 1.5 bath dream come true. The area is safe and there’s plenty of room for everyone.”
  • “My wife is gorgeous and I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. She’s my sweetheart and my forever love. I’d do anything for her.”

This is how I feel about my life, and I mean every word. Any time I’m thinking about an obscenely over-sized home, a fine luxury automobile, or about the small spat my wife and I had the night before, I speak these phrases out loud.

According to the Experimental Journal of Experimental Psychology, speaking my thoughts out loud actually makes total sense. Self directed speech prompts the mind to visualize your words, enabling you to find things faster – or in this instance, to become more content with what you already have by visually accepting your well thought out phrases.

2) Limit your social media intake

Social media helps people connect…..but it’s mostly a tool for people to show off their “wonderful” lives, which of course becomes a curse for you as you begin wanting what they have, what they’re doing, and maybe even who they’re with.

If you’re serious about wanting less, then you’d better cut wayyy back on social media. Preferably under an hour of social media time each day.

Can’t help yourself? Check out these apps that will limit your social media time for you.

3) Slow down on TV time

TV does two things to a person:

  1. Turn them into an unproductive zombie
  2. Makes them want far more than what they need

When you’re zoned out watching TV, that’s the perfect time for marketers to sell you on their product. Your guard is down, you’re not really doing anything else, and your full attention is on that TV commercial. It may not prompt you to buy their product instantly, but the seed is planted when you come across it again later.

You’ve also got to pay careful attention to what you watch. If you’re susceptible to buying a bigger and better house, then you probably should steer clear of HGTV. If you hate your car but don’t have money for a new one, then stop watching those car shows!

The more you watch, the more you’ll want.

Be Content With What You Have

Want to be happy in this life? Then stop wanting more. Easier said than done in today’s world, but with the above suggestions you can be well on your way to living on less and being happier than ever before.

Will you choose to be happy? Or will you just keep loading up on stuff?

Battle of the Mind

AUTHOR Derek Sall

Derek has a Bachelor's degree in Finance and a Master's in Business. As a finance manager in the corporate world, he regularly identified and solved problems at the C-suite level. Today, Derek isn't interested in helping big companies. Instead, he's helping individuals win financially--one email, one article, one person at a time.


  1. Hi Derek,

    Great article. I remember the braggadocius “Christmas letters” I would receive every year. Now, Facebook allows some to post those “letters” everyday, sometimes several times a day. It’s pretty sad.

    • Yup. I have Facebook so I can tell others about the great benefits of being financially wise – and I’m hopefully making an impact. Unfortunately, by having it I also get sucked into other people’s lives that I shouldn’t be concerned about.

  2. Hey Derek, I can relate to your situation. I have stopped watching TV and try not to spend too much time on social media. Unfortunately with blogging, it is kind of essential to get on social media from time to time to check in with your friends.

    A few years back, I deleted about 300 friends of mine on Facebook. I had a rule if I hadn’t seen them in the past 5 years, then I probably didn’t need them on my list. Did that potentially burn a bridge or two? Who knows. I’m feel better with less clutter.

    • Yup yup! People don’t even realize they’re doing it, but posting pictures of vacations and new cars and houses is just a form of bragging to me. And they’re making it pretty difficult for others to lead a happy contented life. I’m with you….defriend! 😉

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