I had everything I ever wanted. I had everything I was supposed to have. Everyone around me said, “You’re successful.” But really, I was miserable. There was this gaping void in my life. So I tried to fill that void the same way many people do: with stuff, lots of stuff.
I think a lot about happiness and what it takes to be happy. I think that most of us want many of the same things in life. We want to have a comfortable and safe place to live, we want to be surrounded by positive people, and we want to have some sense of purpose or meaning, whether that’s through our careers or our home life. But oftentimes, we go in search of happiness in apparently all the wrong places. Like the mall.
We think we’ll be happy when we buy the house in suburbia with the white picket fence and the three car garage. We think we’ll be happy when we fill that three car garage or when we buy a massive TV for the living room. And yet, you can still feel this “gaping void” in your life, like there’s still something missing. Because there is. Because those “things” aren’t enough.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve become obsessed with the concept of minimalism. I’ve watched a few TED talks on the subject and that’s how I came across Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn. They call themselves “The Minimalists” and they co-authored the book that has since been adapted into a documentary.
I was filling the void with consumer purchases. I was spending money faster than I was earning it, attempting to buy my way to happiness. I thought I’d get there one day. Eventually, I mean, happiness had to be somewhere just around the corner. I was living paycheck to paycheck. Living for a paycheck. Living for stuff. But I wasn’t living at all.
Thankfully, I have thus far been able to temper my temptations, avoiding the crisis of consumer debt that afflicts so many people. Aside from our mortgage, I have never taken on any other debt whatsoever. But I still like new things. I like shiny things. I yearn for the newest smartphone or the hottest new car as much as the next person.
Far too often, we lead ourselves to believe that we’ll be happier when we have more things or when we have nicer things. The truth of the matter is that after a certain level of basic needs are met, having more money doesn’t actually make you any happier. Because if you make more money, you’ll probably spend more money too.
You get caught up in the destructive game of keeping up with the Joneses, because you compare yourself against your immediate peer group. If you live in an upper-middle class suburban neighborhood, the people around you are going to be relatively affluent. So, you’ll feel compelled to drive the newer car or the more elaborate wardrobe. But none of those things will make you happy in the long run.
As the late Carrie Fisher once told us, “Being happy isn’t getting what you want; it’s wanting what you have.”
If you haven’t already watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, I encourage you to do so. It’s on Netflix too, which won’t take up any physical space in your home. Digital distribution might be one of the best things to happen to minimalism since the “tiny house” movement.