Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why Its Difficult To Have Happiness In A World Of Consumerism?

I have to admit, the title of this blog post sounds a little too depressing isn't it? Consumerism again, isn't it telling me not to spend too much money to have happiness? Why is life so hard? The fact is, life isn't hard if we know the cycle that makes us unhappy. As humans, ultimately what we do in life is to achieve happiness but somehow, we may unknowingly create unhappiness in our lives instead. Have you wondered why some people are happier than others? Let me show you how does this happen.

Happiness can be explained in psychology. The Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a popular pyramid diagram which explains the different levels of needs of a human being. The higher we go up the pyramid, the more our needs are met which makes us happy. Here's what the pyramid looks like:

There are five levels:
  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Love/Belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-Actualization
Cut the long story short, my point in showing you this pyramid is because unknowingly, humans are stuck at only level 2 of the pyramid which is safety. It is especially true in a world of consumerism where money doesn't seem to be enough always. In fact, people in poorer countries who have the basic food and shelter are happier than people in rich countries. 

The first 2 levels of the pyramid are easy to understand. In the first level, food, shelter, water, sleep are our basic needs. Without these, we will be struggling to survive in life. As humans progress, we get into the second level which is safety. Here, we have a job and we have additional money to do the things we like. The key here is safety where we don't have to worry much about life's basic needs. We then move on to having a family and friendships, achieving more in life in our careers, getting respect from others which boosts our self esteem then to the highest level of self actualisation where we could focus on personal growth. 

Why are we always unhappy?

The world supports us in achieving happiness. In rich cities, everything is quite convenient. We don't just have basic food but exotic dining experiences with different theme restaurants and fine dining food. We have safety in the form of good working environments where we can get a job easily. We have the opportunity to excel and achieve something in our lives so we can be proud of and gain the respect of others. All seems well doesn't it?

However, people in rich cities are still unhappy. They rarely get pass the third level of the pyramid. The pyramid somehow seems stuck at the second level which cause us lots of unhappiness. How could this happen?

There are a few things in life that cause us to be always stuck at the second level of the pyramid. Until we realise how these things in life have been affecting us, we will not be able to proceed up the pyramid to get the happiness we want. So what are these things?

1. Going for too much convenience

Let's face the reality, all of us are in debt or will be in debt one day. Some of us get into more debt because of consumerism. Let me give you an example. Suppose we just started working and received our first paycheck. This adds happiness in our lives as we now have food and also safety in terms of a job and a paycheck. Life is good and one day, we decided its time to buy a house. We look at the houses available and want a house more than just for a shelter over our heads. Maybe we want a house where there are facilities and a security guard. This gives us more security and happiness right? Then, we feel that taking the public transport is too troublesome so we buy a car. A car boost our self esteem and even staying in a condominium gains more respect from others. Friends and family members see that we are successful and we get more happiness.


The story above all goes well until the pyramid gets chip off at the safety portion. Yes we have self esteem and love/belonging but there comes a problem when we worry about not being able to pay the bills and not being able to provide the basic food on the table because of the high amounts of debt we have to pay every month for the house and car. This instantly drops us back to the bottom of the pyramid and we stay unhappy until situation improves. 

2. Making our life more complicated

Basic food and safety is what makes us happy and progress up the pyramid but we stay stuck and do not progress. We make our life more complicated by going for the latest gadgets and get sucked into the world of consumerism where we feel insecure and guilty after making an impulse spending. This takes away the safety we have and makes us stay unhappy until we get out of it.

No matter how much we earn or how we think how stable our job is, we will always feel the insecurity with too much spending. Spending within our means is ok but overspending quickly becomes a habit which makes our life very complicated. 

Spending Money and Still Be Happy

Some people spend money and feel unhappy, but there are also people who spend money and still are happy. Money can buy happiness but don't allow money to take unhappiness away from you. The key is to spend the money which you have and not the money which you don't have. I have been spending more money and I feel absolutely happy as I know my finances are still in place. I don't have to feel insecure because I spend some money which I don't have. 

Happy or Not comes from our thoughts

On a parting note, our thoughts actually create happiness or unhappiness in our lives. It takes courage to think positive in difficult times. When we see people around us living a good life getting promotions and progressing well in life, we may feel sad at our own lives which has not progressed much. A happy person will take this as a motivation to say I will work harder to progress more and take it as a motivation to improve but at the same time grateful for what he has now. A depressed person will feel lousy about himself and think its impossible for him to have a better life. Same situation but different thoughts lead to different emotions. 

I continue to spend more and live my life to the fullest while progressing in life. Ultimately, our goal is to achieve happiness in our lives so every decision we make (financial or not) should lead to happiness not in the short term but in the long term. Are you making happy long term decisions today?

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  1. In a world of consumerism, it is never enough. We always want more. We always want the latest stuff. But that's how capitalism works......unfortunately

    1. Hi Dividend Knight,

      Yes unfortunately indeed

  2. Hi SGYI, you can check out for self-actualization info and knowledge. I find it quite useful and mind blowing.

  3. Hi

    I was reading your post when posb savings rate was 9.5% in the 1980s. Are you also able to know at that time what was the STI index?. Did it fall badly in 1980, 1981? Because that time who would want to put money in stocks when I can put money in the bank and earn interest of 9.5%. Hope you can enlighten me. Thanks

    1. Hi Pang Ooi,

      Unfortunately I do not have the figures of STI index at that time. My guess is probably the stock market has great returns too during that time else it won't be attractive already. From what I know, 1980s was the stock market rally until the oil crisis in 1987.