Good day folks!
This post is written at the beginning of February, as the western world limps out of the Season of Consumption. By that I mean Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and Christmas sales, which are enough to give most people a financial hangover to start the new year with! The world has spent billions in the last couple of months as a result of these few events. By now, we’ve had time to get used to the new purchases and presents. They’ve become part of our everyday lives. And for those that sparked joy and excitement the moment you got them; do they still make you feel anything like that now?
All of this spending doesn’t make us happier
If you answered the above question, I’ll wager that the latest iDevice, clothes or accessories don’t give you the same joy they did on that first day. That’s OK. Part of it is human nature. We are able to adapt quickly to new scenarios, but this does mean that novel experiences quickly become mundane and part of our everyday life. It’s part and parcel of Hedonic Adaptation, which is better explained by Mr Money Mustache here.
Right about now, many consumers will just be getting the credit card bill for all of these purchases. If this is you, I want you to hold one of these purchases in one hand (where possible) and the bill in another, and start to be brutally honest with yourself. Having gotten used to the new object or purchase, if it suddenly went up in a puff of smoke and you saw it on sale tomorrow for the same price, would you go out and buy it all over again? Is your life better or more enjoyable with this object, to the point that it is worth the monetary value? An answer of yes is absolutely fine, and is great. But it’s unlikely to be a yes for ALL of the things on that credit card bill.
Deprivation is not the way
I’m not going to tell you to “stop buying stuff, you idiot of a consumer!”, because that’s not helpful, nice, or going to work. Just as saying “I’m going to eat healthily/work out five times a week/get up at 5am every day” on its own is unlikely to result in any lasting behaviour change, without reasoning and motivation to back it up. I know from experience that I might manage for a short while, but eventually willpower will fade, I’ll start to feel like I’m being deprived of something and BOOM! The goal goes right out of the window.
Meaningful and lasting change needs support from your mind and your heart, so you always know why you’re doing it, and it aligns with what you truly want.
Step 1: Choosing what matters to you
For those who have come across Marie Kondo and the KonMari Method, you will be familiar with the exercise of holding up each of your belongings in turn and assessing whether or not it sparks joy. If you haven’t, then is probably sounds like a silly exercise and a waste of time. Please bear with me though.
Taking each of your possessions and purchases into your hands (literally or metaphorically) and examine what it really means to you. What feelings or thoughts come to mind, and are they positive or negative? This process takes a bit of practice, and a bit of getting used to examining objects in a way that you probably haven’t done before. Does your tablet computer make you feel happy, or does it bring to mind the level of Candy Crush you’ve been stuck on for weeks, or your work emails popping pinging through at all hours of the day?
Once you’ve done this with your physical possessions, think about the non-tangibles, your hobbies and “experiences”, or services you pay for. Do the same for these. As you’ll see, many of the things which bring joy to my life are experience-based, not purchases.
Things which add value to my life:
- Spending time with friends and family
- Having somewhere cozy to sit and read a book (well, eBook)
- Time in the great outdoors
- Cooking for myself and others
Step 2: Cut everything else ruthlessly.
Once you’ve identified the things in your life which matter to you, it gets much easier to recognise the things you don’t. And if you know what you don’t like, then you can start to remove them one by one from your life. I can tell you, the feeling of cutting out the crap and letting go is brilliant, and one I can heartily recommend!
Things which don’t matter to me:
- Wearing new and expensive designer clothes
- Fast cars
- “Shopping” (since when is this a hobby??)
- Eating meat every day
- Living in a trendy area
- Paid subscriptions to every media streaming service
None of these things would provide any significant improvement or happiness to my life, so I have just said no to them all! I wear smart clothes to work that I’ve bought cheap or from charity shops, cook my own (mostly vegetarian) food, drive a small and economical car, and live in a nice but cheap area of my already Low Cost of Living city, with just a £5.99 Netflix subscription as paid entertainment.
One of my all time favourite ways to spend my time is hiking and camping. I’m immensely fortunate to live in an area with beautiful countryside, and only a couple of hours’ drive from the heart of the UK’s Lake District, which in 2017 was designated as a UNSECO World Heritage Site.
In all of the experiences I have had in my life, there are few that have compared to the feeling I get when I stand at the top of a mountain, face into the wind and grin like a fool. For me that feeling is worth more than a five-star hotel, more than a Michelin star dinner, and more than driving a sports car. A colleague recently made the comment that the exact same experience was the closest thing to something spiritual, and I absolutely get that.
And what is the cost of something like this? Whatever you want it to be. If you have the basics of comfort and safety (boots, waterproofs, map etc) then the costs can be next to nothing at all! For some people, a nice hotel, dinner and drinks are considered a necessity for any kind of trip. I’m happier walking all day, pitching a tent in a suitable spot at the end of the day and camping wild. While not for everyone, the feeling of waking up, making your own coffee and watching the sun rise up over the mountains is second to none.
I have identified that these kinds of trips give me more happiness and fulfilment than, say, a weekend city break. As a result, I will actively choose to do one over the other, with the added bonus that the former costs about ten percent of the latter. Knowing what experiences I value enables me to build a life that I want, not copy those I see on my Instagram feed or Facebook homepage.
Tear up the script
There are standard “scripts” for how we are supposed to travel, socialise, marry etc, and if you don’t put your foot on the brake you’ll end up following these scripts by default. But I suspect that most people don’t want a “default life”. This is not to say that you can’t have traditional experiences or have the latest technology, but if you enjoy it having made the conscious decision that it aligns with your values and makes you happy, then you may enjoy it that bit more. And you might make adjustments to remove the aspects which don’t matter to you, and save money by doing so.
Start living consciously. Start today.