We often worry about what others think of us. We want to feel accepted and liked. We want to meet-up to the ideals of success laid down by society. We want to avoid failure and humiliation. Often, we become pre-occupied with material possessions and the social image they project.
When possessions, money, fame and influence are valued as a means to be loved – instead of as ends in themselves – we suffer from what Alain de Botton describes “Status Anxiety”. According to de Botton, status anxiety possesses an exceptional capacity to inspire sorrow. I agree.
The unchecked pursuit of material things reduces self-esteem and happiness. Studies show that living a consumer lifestyle is both socially destructive and self-destructive.
Materialism makes us less empathetic and it weakens our social relationships. It’s a root cause of depression, anxiety and broken relationships. It also generates loneliness; people who are cut off from others need more things.
Materialism fills an emotional void. It compensates for a loss or unfulfilled relationships and we don’t get any happier; we only accumulate more stuff. According to Dr. James Roberts, a 2,500-square-foot house becomes the baseline for our desires for an even bigger house. It’s called the Treadmill of Consumption. We purchase more things but don’t get any closer to happiness; we simply raise our reference point and speed up the treadmill. Life on the treadmill draws us further away from what we truly need to be happy.
There is evidence that placing less importance on materialistic goals increases self-esteem, health and happiness. I recommend the following:
1. Think of happiness as a journey instead of an outcome.
2. Simplify your life. Get rid of the clutter and establish a minimum of what you and your loved ones need. Don’t cling on to material things that give no meaning or value to your life or your health.
3. Be less material-driven and more people-driven. Place more importance on social relationships – friends, family and community life.
4. Be less “me-centered” and cultivate compassion. Help others who help you and care for the environment.
5. Take care of yourself. Place more value on healthy foods and enriching experiences and less on the latest luxury item or gadget. Meditate, practice mindfulness or yoga and exercise regularly.
6. Practice gratitude. Be grateful for what you already have. Follow the advice of the ancient Greek Philosopher Epicurus: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for”.