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13 random thoughts on living a happier, less materialistic life

Written by: Kabous le Roux


Know that material things cannot make you happy, but these things can: being grateful and giving thanks; savouring simple pleasures; forgiving yourself and others; loving kindness towards yourself and others; maintaining intimate relationships with family and friends and prioritising their happiness; exercise and healthy living; having a purpose; being passionate; serving others; losing yourself in whatever you're doing.


Having lots of money, driving a fancy car, owning a large house; many people assume that these things denote a successful, happy existence. However, when you lack love it becomes apparent that material things have little meaning. Will your stuff console you when you are sick or dying?


You'll probably be happier and less stressed if you work less. More free hours could mean more time for family, friends, play and the things you enjoy. Materialistic people incur heavy penalties in pursuit of their goals. The more materialistic you are the harder you have to work and the more indebted you're likely to be.


The happiest people seldom judge themselves by what others achieve or own.


Many couples are so worn out from working at high-stress jobs (so they can afford a nice house or fancy car) that they no longer have energy to bond. Life is materially comfortable, yet unsatisfying and exhausting.


Striving to be rich (or to own a particular house or drive a particular car) is not a goal that will lead to happiness. How rich is rich enough? There is always some product that you don't yet own or more money to make. These are goals that seem impossible to achieve; you keep on needing more. Rather strive for spiritual goals - like being a good friend - which satisfy permanently when achieved.

Before Silicon Graphics (his first company) Jim Clark, the founder of Netscape (his second), said a fortune of US$10-million would make him happy. Before he founded Netscape he was quoted as saying that once he had $100-million he'd have enough to be happy. Before Healtheon (company number three) he desired $1-billion. He recently told author Michael Lewis, "Once I have more money than Larry Ellison, I'll be satisfied." Ellison, the founder Oracle, is worth $13-billion.


Advertisers deliberately create feelings of inadequacy; we possess what we don't want and want what we don't have. They don't merely take advantage of unhappiness, but actively try to cultivate it. They present products in an unreal, completely distorted way so as to make them seem essential and capable of making us happy.


It's unlikely that chasing money per se can be satisfying. Rather focus on doing what you enjoy and what makes you happy. You're more likely to be successful in your job if money is not the objective.


To give up pretentions - to relinquish the race to keep with your neighbours - is a glorious, blessed relief.


It's clear to me that spending money on life experiences such as travelling makes people happier than spending on material things such as, say, buying a new car. Maybe it's because past experiences become better with time as our fallible memories reinterpret events? Or maybe it's harder to unfavourably compare experiences? Whatever the case may be, spending money on experiences is more likely to encourage social relationships than a material purchase and therefore stands a better chance causing lasting happiness.


Materialistic goals and living the "good life" are often mutually exclusive. It seems to me that the more people aspire to materialistic goals the less satisfied they become.


Will accepting all of this - that being less materialistic can make you a happier person - change many minds? I would hope so, but I have my doubts. We’re often blind to our own materialism. We easily finger someone else's fondness for, say, the latest gadget as materialistic, yet we view our own desire for the latest gizmo as essential to make work more efficient. You must be aware of your own materialism to avoid it. Furthermore, most people have a very broad definition of "needs". I "need" new shoes for gym, I "need" clothes for work, I "need" a larger car for my growing family…

Before you go without a new experience, or take a job you don't want, in order to meet your "needs", perhaps it's time you take a honest look at how real and pressing your "needs" really are?


Be content with what you have; it's great when you get richer, but don't stress or be competitive about it. Enjoy the simple fact of being alive and breathing. Relating to others is what truly makes people happy.

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This article first appeared on CapeTalk : 13 random thoughts on living a happier, less materialistic life

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