Adverts are not only designed to encourage us to go shopping and spend money, but also to make us feel discontent. In turn, they suggest that buying the advertised product will make us happier and our lives better. However, the promise of happiness that’s made in adverts never comes true as the joy during and after purchase fades quickly. But maybe the next product might fulfill this promise? In her book The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard calls this cycle the work-watch-spend treadmill: We work to earn money, come home and see adverts on TV that make us feel discontent, and so we go shopping to buy a new version that’s supposed to make us happier. We go to work again to pay for it all and the cycle continues. Have you considered jumping off? I’ve done it and it feels good.
Initially, I stepped off the treadmill unintentionally. When I moved out of my parents house for the first time to go to university, I moved with all my stuff because I could. When I moved again, I decided to get rid of some and I repeated that 13 times. Stuff became a burden and not something to enjoy. Soon I realised I was much happier with less. There was less to tidy up and most importantly, less to worry about. Instead, it made me feel free. Buying something new has become something special and when I do it, I only buy something I really like and then I look after it. I buy it because I want it and want to keep it – not for a short boost of happiness.
I first read the book The Story of Stuff about five years ago. It opened my eyes to the environmental impact of pursuing constant economic growth and the fact that we’ve been made consumers to make this economic system work. Because of the destruction and degradation of ecosystems to mine resources, the greenhouse gas emissions and pollution during production and the accumulation of stuff after disposal, I decided to never jump back on this treadmill again.
Having been unemployed for a while has made me think differently about happiness yet again. I know that buying more stuff wouldn’t make me happier (although the economic system suggests that there’s a positive correlation between stuff and happiness). What I now need to make me perfectly happy is a job that fulfills me and provides me with enough money to cover my basic living costs. I want to do something meaningful that gives me a sense of purpose.
Trying to chase happiness through shopping is an endless cycle. I can only recommend giving stepping off the treadmill a go. Pause and ask yourself what really makes you happy. For me, this is going for a walk in the beautiful British countryside, meeting with friends or reading a good non-fiction book that makes me think differently about the world we live in. But most importantly I know that I don’t want my happiness to cost the earth.