Deconstructing the Consumer

From infancy to infinity, our minds are bombarded with messages from deceptive marketers. Spellbound, we fall victim to the idea that salvation is found via possession.  Carefully crafted into obedient consumers, we stagger on a treadmill of continual craving.  Taught that to have more is to be more, we trust that personal triumph is found through amassed fortune.

This is 100%, pure, grade-A, unrefined bullshit.

This realization came slowly and only after I uncovered the science which unequivocally proves that as consumers, we are continually being bent over the rain barrel.  Over the last century, shameless corporations and clever marketing agencies have uncovered the cognitive and emotional loopholes that leave us hopelessly exposed to suggestion.  Although it may be tough to admit, we are incredibly vulnerable – a fact that has been exploited time and again by those who wish to take advantage of us.

Consumerism is the problem – not the solution.

In this post, I aim to deconstruct the myth that the accumulation of money, wealth, and possession offers a significant boost to our sense of well-being and happiness.  Simply put, it doesn’t.

To begin the deconstruction, I will explain perhaps the most fundamental financial lesson that we can learn.  Strangely it doesn’t have anything to do with money, but rather possession.  It’s called hedonic adaption.

Hedonic Adaption

Learn it.  Love it.  Live it.

The notion of hedonic adaption is here to free us from the shackles of the consumption cycle.  A cycle which offers nothing but short-term bursts of pleasure and credit card bills.

This verified concept demonstrates how humans tend to return to a relatively stable baseline level of happiness after major life events – whether positive or negative.  In other words, for better or for worse, one-off life events initially affect our level of happiness, our mood; yet shortly after, we return to the same baseline we typically reside at.

This concept applies to all of life and has major implications for the way we choose to spend money.

Take for example the upgrade to a brand-spanking-new house.  For the first few days and weeks, it does provide a jolt to your happiness. You wake up and feel flush with excitement: wow, just look at this place.  But over time, it becomes normal, and the jolt becomes less and less until finally, it’s gone entirely.  This is the effect of hedonic adaption when applied to consumerism.

Upgrading to a new-and-improved house is like watching your favourite team win the championship.  It’s an emotional high.  It may even last a while.  But as with all highs, you eventually come down.  This cycle – from desire to elation to come down – applies to all indulgent, unnecessary expenditures.

Consider your own experience.  Think back to something you were eager to buy – a new phone, perhaps a new car or house, some clothes, a swanky new watch, purse, or whatever.  The anticipation prior to purchase was palpable.  It seemed like the right decision, the only decision.  Sufficiently seduced, you purchased – and it felt good, really good.

But tell me, how do you feel now?  Are you still riding that high? If not, how long did it last and where did the feeling go?

As with all emotions, it passed away.

The stress caused by debt and overspending often inflicts considerable damage that may last a lifetime, yet the bogus benefits derived from the consumption cycle have been proven to be inconsequential relative to your overall level of well-being.

The wool has been pulled over our eyes for far too long and the time is ripe for change.

Money Can’t Buy Happiness

Well actually, that’s not entirely true.

Another major blow to consumerism came via the Nobel-Prize winning research which showed that an income increase above $75,000 USD did absolutely nothing to improve a person’s life.  Zilch.  Nada.  Nothing.  Whether you made $75,000 or $200,000 or $2,000,0000 and beyond, you’d still feel the exact same way on a day-to-day basis.

The myth that more money means more happiness is simply untrue.  For those with high incomes, consider what you are giving up in return.  We’ve shown the value of riches to be virtually nil, but ask yourself, how much do you value your time, your health?

The stress caused by financial burden has reached epidemic proportion and as a result, any discussion about health and well-being must include a sharp emphasis on responsible spending.

Below $75,000

Below an income of $75,000, there is a correlation between income and happiness levels – BUT!  It’s a small difference and it’s not because those under that amount are want of the latest products.  Rather, they suffer from not being able to afford the things that cause additional stress – like emergencies, car repairs, and unexpected events.

Those below this threshold of income can still learn much from this principle.  Try as best you can to have an emergency fund.  Don’t blow your money on junk that isn’t doing anything for you.  Be mindful about where your money goes.  Reduce unnecessary spending.

I don’t mean to suggest that you should renounce all possession, wrap yourself in burlap and live in a van down by the river.  Instead, the point is move as a far away from reckless and compulsive spending as possible while also redefining what it means to be wealthy.  In the coming weeks, I will endeavour to provide practical strategies aimed at accomplishing these goals.

One thought on “Deconstructing the Consumer

  1. Egemen

    Brilliant article, introduction to the art of living.

    I’ve spent all my life (36) with inner peace and satisfaction, investing in books, friends, vacations and family. Never above $75,000 level.

    Whoever reads this: it’s not about how much you spend, it’s all about how you spend.

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