We can have everything, yet do we feel nothing?



The Ultimate Utopian


I think happiness is the ultimate utopian, perhaps everyday we are constantly looking for it. Yet in reality happiness isn’t a final destination. As the Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes said, happiness is “like a feather flying in the air. It flies light, but not for very long”. Happiness is fleeting and perhaps we are trying to attach a sense of permanence to it through what we own?

Happiness is "like a feather flying in the air. It flies light, but not for very long" - Vinicius de Moraes

Retail therapy is effective, as psychologists say we get a dopamine boost simply in anticipation of purchasing a product. Psychology Today states shopping is a sense of mental preparation, "nearly everyone has used shopping as a way to anticipate, imagine, and mentally prepare". I liked how Psychology Today described shopping as a "vacation without any packing or planning".


Looking at the way we shop as an experience, was revolutionised by Harry Gordon Selfridge. If we look at the advertising industry, specifically Selfridges' campaign in 2003 using Barbara Kruger’s style of work to create slogans, such as “I shop therefore I am”. It suggests a link between consumerism and our identity.


Our identity is in our stuff


I have read in another Mindless Mag article, where the view is that our "Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns." The link between our identity and our stuff is a deep emotional connection.


Such as when people have suffered natural disasters and lost their homes it is reported that "the psychological impact of loss is greater than the financial burden". I feel we can all relate to the fact that our homes are more than just a building. And a book we own is more than pages and chapters; it is our escapism.


Our self is extended through our stuff. The theory of the extended self was derived from William James, this then has been applied to the consumer concept behaviour.


Perhaps we hold such a strong emotional connection to our stuff because they hold memories, they show our personalities, and many other reasons. We buy stuff to present a visual view of ourselves to the world. The more stuff we have shows affluence and develops our status in society.


Specifically with social media materialism is on the rise, I find that as humans we have a need to be accepted. Social media poses these opportunities through trends and high following accounts, and we succumb to the idea that we can buy an identity that will be approved.


The need for social connection has been there "since we've been gathering as humans, we've gone to the marketplace to connect". Although nowadays I’m not sure whether the nature of this connection is manifesting into a need to be accepted.

"We succumb to the idea that we can buy an identity that will be approved"

If we think about ownership, at school you are told to name everything your coat, bag, lunchbox, right down to your cardigan and shirt. I wonder if this sense of ownership can leave us feeling isolated, relating it back to adulthood.


For example, if we base our status on the stuff we own, it becomes quite isolating as we all individually own something. We all individually have a status. Yet where is our connection with each other?


An experiment was conducted where some participants were wearing a white doctors coat. They sat a test of attentional focus and people wearing street clothes took the same test. Those wearing white coats were more accurate.


Perhaps this is how our mind is trained, if our individualistic self is celebrated we perform better, this is how the Western culture attains happiness.


Our search for happiness


In Eastern culture they attain their happiness through social harmony. This contrast between Western and Eastern cultures on attaining happiness is interesting, which seems more sustainable to you?


Perhaps stuff is manufacturing our identity, we buy this therefore it means we are this: "I shop therefore I am" (Barbara Kruger). If I buy this it means I am this person, perhaps we are all in such a rush to just label our identity?


If we were to look at happiness, our evolution prioritised the development of the frontal lobe which gives us "executive and analytical abilities over a natural ability to be happy". Nature discouraged us from being in a state of contentment as this would lower our guard.


Perhaps this leads onto the fact we just keep on buying because we can have more. But when does it cross the line between what we want and what we need?


We buy till we find it. But does this apply to happiness? In society today, where it's easier than ever to simply buy whatever we want. Are we missing the biggest bargain of them all? Is happiness actually free? Is the happiness and positive thinking industry, which is estimated to be worth eleven billion dollars a year, clouding our judgement? Cementing the illusion that we can just buy a way of life.


"Cementing the illusion that we can just buy a way of life"

Stuff matters to us, it forms our identity, yet some people let it all go and feel free some cling to it, some don’t even recognise it. Whilst in all this our identity shape-shifts between the categories, we hope to fit in. Does the stuff we own provide steppingstones or barriers?


We are born without anything, we die without anything, yet in between we can have everything but do we feel nothing?