It’s that time of year again where tempting Black Friday discounts and pre-Christmas sales are everywhere. No word of a lie, there are currently eleven tabs open on my browser with Black Friday deals. I am drawn to items that I need, as well as to ones that I really don’t need. On top of these enticements, we are being encouraged (manipulated) to buy for Christmas every time we step inside a shop, go online or watch TV.
But even with all these things that we buy, I have yet to find a study that definitively proves that we are significantly happier because of them.
Life is physically easier for sure. My back isn’t broken scrubbing clothes on a washboard or squeezing them through a wringer. We have so many luxuries, big-flat screen TVs, smart phones that do nearly everything and big comfortable cars.
But are we happier? Current literature suggests that we are in fact less happy and more prone to anxiety and depression than in years gone by.
It is well known that we now live in an age of consumerism. This consumerism does not just affect our finances, it has significant impact on our well-being. Understandably, companies treat us more as consumers than as citizens. But worryingly, we are also falling into this trap of seeing ourselves as consumers and not as people.
Our self-esteem and value systems are becoming increasingly entangled in how much we buy and own. Martin Luther King Jr is quoted as saying “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.”
The reality is that material things are neither bad nor good in their own right. It is the role and significance that we place on them that can become problematic.
Psychologist Tim Kasser writes about something called discrepancy theory, which is about the way we notice the difference between the lifestyles of people in adverts and our own. The greater the difference, the more urgent the need to buy the product, and the more miserable our lives appear without it. But if we stop and look at the bigger picture of our life, are we really miserable because we don’t have that specific product? Do we really need that item we are being sold?
It has been shown that the practice of gratitude is the opposite of consumerism. This means that the more grateful we are for what we already have, the less likely we are to keep wanting more. If we want to balance out the bombardment of adverts that tell us we need more, it is imperative that we regularly remind ourselves of what we are truly grateful for in our lives already.
It is a good time of year to consider our spending habits, to rediscover thoughtfulness and intention in our purchases, and to remind ourselves that enduring happiness is not on sale at the shopping centre.
I believe we are made for greater pursuits than material possessions. It is encouraging to see more and more people placing a greater significance on living a fulfilling life in which having lots of stuff is not the most important factor. This Christmas, let’s experience joy in giving – but more joy in spending time with the people we love and being grateful for that time.
Jannah Walshe is a fully accredited psychotherapist, course facilitator and mental-health speaker based in Co Mayo. More information about Jannah can be found at www.jannahwalshe.ie.