I challenge you to count the number of e-mails that you have received from various retailers with offers to “Enjoy 50% Off Select Merchandise” or to “Fill Your Stocking with Great Deals” in the past few days. I bet you can’t keep up! I have been sending these e-mails to the trash as quickly as they come in, and still find that e-mails from friends and family have been buried under the weight of these so-called deals (never mind the fact that I have unsubscribed from many of these e-mails and they keep on coming!). Given everything that is going on in the world right now, I find it particularly hard to stomach the materialism that these e-mails represent.
With all of this said, let me be clear: I am a self-confessed shopper. I come by it naturally. I have memories of sitting with my mother in my grandmother’s favourite store while she tried on the latest fashions of the season. I cherish these memories. It was clear to me from a young age that my grandmother’s clothes and general appearance were a source of joy and pride for her. I share in this love of clothes (and shoes… and purses… and coats…). And there are some early indications that my daughter is following in my (well-heeled) footsteps.
I am fully aware that there is a contradiction in what I’m saying. I tell you that I’m sickened by the barrage of retailer e-mails and then go on to say that I love shopping. And both are true. Let me digress with an anecdote…
I once had the privilege of hearing Daniel Gilbert speak at a small, intimate event on the topic of “happiness” (check out one of his TED Talks here). The basic premise of his presentation was that his mother gave him three main pieces of advice on how to be a happy person: (1) find a nice girl and settle down; (2) find a job that is meaningful and fulfilling; and (3) have kids. He boiled these down to: marriage, money and children.
I won’t go into all three, but will instead focus just on money. Gilbert’s research asserts that money DOES buy happiness. I should pause here to add that Gilbert has a very engaging presentation style and is quite humorous. So, at this point in his presentation, everyone thought he was joking. But he then shared a curve demonstrating the relationship between money and happiness. And it revealed that there is no point at which getting richer makes you sadder – each dollar makes you happier. However, there is an inflection point where the curve flattens out and it is harder to squeeze out more happiness with more money. The point varies with each individual, but is somewhere between $40k and $70k. Gilbert went on to say that there is an enormous difference in happiness when money moves people out of poverty and into the middle class. However, once people are earning enough to be in the middle class, more money doesn’t make them much happier.
There were a couple of other things that Gilbert shared on this topic that I found interesting. He said that the happiness derived from money is largely dependent on how you spend it. People get more happiness buying experiences than material goods. They also derive more joy buying things for other people than they do for themselves.
We live in an era where most people (in the western world, anyway) operate under the premise that more is more. I will admit that I was previously guilty of shopping for the sake of shopping, often with little thought put into whether I needed a particular item – or, worse yet, whether it brought me any joy. I honestly think I was operating under the misguided idea that more “stuff” would bring me more happiness. And – no surprise – it didn’t!
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I recently read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. In the book, author Marie Kondo asks readers to examine their possessions to determine whether they spark joy. If they don’t, she urges readers to get rid of the item. I still have not done a complete sweep of my house, but for those areas that I have managed to tidy, the exercise has indeed been life-changing. I feel lighter. I feel happier about the items that surround me in those spaces because they truly do bring joy. And, as a result, it has set a higher bar for any new items that I bring into our home.
At 7-years old, my twins are starting to notice the things that their friends have and have begun asking for them. And I’m fine with that… to a point. If these items will bring the kids happiness (truly!) then I will do my best to get these things for them. But I refuse to fall into the trap of getting them “stuff” just because so-and-so has it. After spending the summer at the cottage with the kids, I saw first-hand just how little they need to be happy. The lake, the sun, a forest to explore… pretty basic really.
I can’t help but feel that the underlying message behind these retailer e-mails is that happiness is just a purchase away. Yes, it is true that sometimes stuff does bring joy. And I know for this reason that my love of shopping won’t disappear. But I hope that I can set an example for my kids and show them that material possessions should supplement our happiness, not be the foundation for it.
As I am finishing this blog post, an e-mail just came through from a well-respected retailer promising me the “best Sunday ever”. I can assure you that time spent with my family, and a delicious dinner in the oven will ensure that my Sunday is a good one. No shopping necessary!