There's more to life than stuff, right?
As I pack up my university room ready for Easter, It has become abundantly clear that I have a lot of stuff. Stuff that I don't actually think I have ever touched, so why do I have it?
I began to think about my accumulation of 'stuff' and tried to think of the reason behind each purchase, the same answer kept coming back to me - I thought buying stuff would make me happy.
The term 'retail therapy' has become more than a gimmick; it's the best excuse to pop to the shops or scroll on ASOS for hours on end, but once we receive that delivery, what does it achieve? I feel like we have started to console our ego's through consumerism, to keep up appearances and provide ourselves with a short, sharp burst of dopamine in the form of a new pair of Nike. But now we are left with an overflowing wardrobe and too many Nikes to count.
So why is it that we desire so much 'stuff' in search of happiness? I know that too many of us have stumbled through life thinking, "If I just have ... I'll be happy", but that doesn't make us happy, does it?
The spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, proposes a theory as to why our new purchases only provide a fleeting feeling of happiness:
"When we make a purchase and/or get what we want, we are temporarily happy and fulfilled. But the reason for happiness is not because we got what we wanted, but because for a brief period of time, we stopped wanting, and thus we experience peace and happiness."
In such a chaotic world faced with war, environmental exhaustion and economic turmoil, we look to retail therapy as an escape, a quick fix for peace and happiness instead of making a lasting change to meet our desire for happiness.
More than minimalism
Minimalism is more than a lifestyle, and it encourages us to question what actually adds value to our lives. Cultures across the globe instil these traditions into their lifestyle; we can draw inspiration from countries like Japan and Scandinavia, where the philosophy of minimalism has long stood strong.
In Japan, the minimalist philosophy is rooted in Zen Buddhism, this encourages detachment from material possessions, instead of encouraging a focus on happiness and mindfulness.
There are many words in Japanese that describe the different elements of minimalism, but my favourite is Ma, the celebration of space between things and, in turn, recognising that what is absent is just as valuable as what's present.
The notion of minimalism seems revitalising in the UK, a fresh evolution of consumerism towards a more conscious environmental stance partially encouraged by lockdown Netflix binges of Tidying up with Maire Kondo and Minimalism: the documentary about the important things. There are pros and cons to minimalism, yet something that really resonated with me is a quote by Ryan Nicodemus (1/2 of The Minimalists)
"Minimalism isn't about not having things, it's about having things that give you meaning, that give you purpose. It is the important things."
There are 1.7 billion people who belong to the 'consumer class', with lifestyles devoted to the collection of non-essential goods in the hope of achieving peace and self-actualisation. By 2030, there will be 5.6 billion consumers, and if everyone lived like Western consumers, we would need 5 planets to support us... let that sink in.
Let go to get more out of life
Consumerism is an insight into the psychedelically of the modern world. It concludes how we have evolved towards maximalism and why we desire so much in search of happiness. Consumerism drives the world we live in, fuels economies, and for many of us, it's the reason we get up in the morning, but our overconsumption of 'stuff' means some of us have lost touch with what really makes us happy. I'm not saying we should all be minimalists, but I believe we shouldn't be so reliant on our mass consumption of negligible products to drive our happiness.
It's the important things that have meaning. It's the important things that make us happy.
And so that is what we should aim for in The Pursuit of happiness, not 'stuff'.