If I could put anything on a billboard, I would write 5 simple words:
It won’t make you happy.
In college, I dreamed of life after my studies. I could not wait to make money so I could buy the things I always wanted. I had visions of buying a nice house, whipping around a fancy car and wearing the finest threads money can buy. You know, living the good life.
Is this the good life? Or just the good life we are being sold?
When I finally graduated from college, the things my heart desired came to fruition. I started at an entry level wage, so I would buy the things that my salary could afford. Then I got a raise, and would increase the amount of things I could buy with my raise. Then a promotion, which led me to buy more “stuff”
I started buying the things I always wanted. Fancy dinners, expensive clothes and my first home.
Then I noticed something, not a single thing that I bought increased my happiness.
Sure, I would be on cloud nine for a week or two (I call this the honeymoon period). Showing off my new fancy gadget to my family and friends. Yet, after this honeymoon period, the very thing I thought about for so long, became just another item I own.
My life did not change.
I thought to myself well maybe I need more things? Then I’ll be having the greatest time on earth. So, I would buy more gizmos and gadgets.
Still, my happiness did not increase. I was living for stuff, but I wasn’t living at all.
I took a step back and had one of the greatest realizations of my life. I was happiest when I spent time with family and friends.
I was using money as a tool to buy things that didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It was actually to my detriment. I was consuming so much that I could not save. I had a joke of an account balance. This led to stress and anxiety.
The hunger was never satisfied.
Enough was enough. I stopped buying the things that I did not need and started saving aggressively. I began to purchase assets, instead of liabilities.
The stress melted away and I was comfortable for the first time in my life. I didn’t worry when my car broke down, the money was already there. I did not lose a minute of sleep when my house needed a big repair, the money was there. I did not worry about ever losing my job, I had enough to cover my expenses for a year.
This was extremely empowering.
Then the empowerment began to snowball. I realized that if I continued to save this way, I could retire early. If I continued to save and increased my income, I could retire really early and be financially independent. That means I would not have to work for money another day of my life. I could do the work that I wanted, on my terms.
Instead of dreaming about fancy things, I now dream about freedom from a paycheck.
I realized that the things important to me, are not things at all, they’re people.
This is true freedom.
Have we become a little too ridiculous? Why do we let things consume our thoughts?
On New Year’s Day, I went to the annual Dillard’s mega-sale. I needed a new jacket for an upcoming ski adventure (Since we live in Florida, jackets are a foreign necessity). My wife and I arrived two hours early. Not because we wanted to be in line two hours early, but because we thought it started two hours earlier.
What we saw was a mob of people outside. People willing to give up hours of their time to wait in line and buy “stuff”. I was amazed.
When we returned at the time of opening, the crowd was larger. As the doors opened, the mob of people rushed in grabbing every garment in site. Woman had handbags hanging from their wrist to their shoulder. Men stacked shoeboxes taller than me. It was a grabbing frenzy.
I asked a few brave souls why they were buying so much stuff? “It’s on sale!” Was the response I would get almost every time. They looked at me like I was crazy for asking the question.
Because it’s on sale?
I immediately realized I was considered the weird-o there. I knew what I needed. These people were going to find out what they “needed” when they got to the mall.
Here’s a fun fact to keep in your back pocket: You save 100% on every “on sale” item you don’t buy.
You save 100% on every “on sale” item you don't buy. Click To Tweet
The western world is experiencing the highest standard of living in history. Why do we still crave for more?
Lottery winners become miserable. High income households have three car garages, but they want another car. Stuff is much cheaper to make. It is available at the click of button. This results in more consumption.
Our houses on average are three times larger than the 50’s, yet there is a $2.2 billion square foot personal storage unit industry.
What are we doing?
If you find yourself living to buy the next thing on your wish list, understand this. You are under attack every single day. While you drive, billboards plaster every inch your tires turn. As you watch T.V. you have commercials telling you what you need.
Portrayed is an illusion of what our lives should look like. When you go to the movies, celebrities are living the life you think is needed. Your Instagram feed is filled with people’s lives who look to be perfect.
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
― Jim Carrey
Chasing this “dream” leads to dissatisfaction. You will never have enough. We think we need things, because we are told we need those things.
When you simplify your life, you can break through this noise.
I am going to let you in on a little secret. My wife works in the fashion industry. There used to be four seasons of fashion.
The fashion industry now has this concept called “fast fashion”. This means there are 52 seasons out of the year. If you didn’t buy your clothes this week, you are out of style. They want you to buy as much clothing as you possibly can.
Buy, buy, buy (It’s the N*SYNC from hell).
The same goes for the objects in your home. You constantly have to update your decor to stay in style. You need a new rug, or chair, or the latest wall art.
This is completely unsustainable.
There’s nothing wrong with consumption. The problem is compulsive consumption. Consuming to chase happiness instead of consuming what you value.
If you think this is about restriction, minimalism, or frugality you’re missing the point.
I still love stuff. I still want stuff. But I am now deliberate about what I buy, making sure that it will add value to my life.
I am working to buy a bigger house. I want a classic 1958 Chevy Apache truck (very particular, I know). I want to travel the world. I am willing to give up other “stuff” so that I can have the things that matter to me.
It’s simple really: Happiness is when someone is content with what they have.
Make your life intentional. It doesn’t have to be perfect or easy (because that’s impossible). It should be of value to you and others.
This life is yours, act as such.