Thoughts on the American lifestyle and why we feel the constant need for more stuff

Why do American’s have this desire or feel the need to buy a big house, own several cars, have the latest technology, gadgets, new clothes, and all the latest toys for their kids?

Why do we get strive to have the highest paying job, that pays for the expensive house and cars, stuff for the kids, a wardrobe for said job, trips to escape our stressful lives, etc, etc? This is what we were told to do after college, get a job, buy a house, get married, have kids, buy a bigger house, bigger cars, and so on and so on. Why does it have to be like this? Isn’t there more to life than this daily grind of wake up, eat, work, stress out, come home, eat, stress, sleep and wake up and do it all over again? Yes, there are small moments of joy, happiness, and enjoyable experiences in between all that, but the majority of that daily grind is just that, grinding.

I am on a personal quest to answer this question. I don’t feel life has to be this way. Why do we feel we need to live a lifestyle that doesn’t bring us a sense of fulfillment or provide much meaning to our lives if we don’t want to?  Fulfillment and meaning come from our relationships, our health, our connection to other people, and how we contribute. It doesn’t come from things we buy or the house we live in. There are numerous studies that prove our everyday happiness doesn’t increase with higher earnings after a certain threshold. So why do we keep striving for more, more, more?

A Boston Globe article titled, Why is it So Hard to Stop Buying More Stuff, provides some really good answers to this question. Dr. Ann-Christine Duhaime, a pediatric neurosurgeon investigating the connections between brain chemistry and consumption contributed to the article:

Our brain’s reward system evolved for survival, encouraging behavior that led to greater consumption, which helps explain some modern-day habits. We often take in more calories than we need because long ago we didn’t know when we’d get our next meal. We get a little rush when we find a parking space close to our destination because an unpredictable food supply encouraged us to save our energy. We get a shopper’s high when buying a new toy or a new television or a new car, because, during times of scarcity, any material good was prized.

We need to retrain our brains to get that rush without more consumption. Can we do it? Yes, but it takes practice and repetition.

Personally, I am on a mission to have a full and successful life that doesn’t revolve around financial or professional success. It means more to me now to be healthy, improve the relationships in my life, and reduce my reliance on things. I used things i.e. alcohol, food, new clothes, new car, to attempt to not feel the constant stress and struggle. However, when I was in that mindset, I didn’t realize what I was doing. I just went through the motions of it all and didn’t pause to think why I was buying something, or what I was feeling when I wanted to drink or to overeat.

If my mental health is on point, I will make good decisions, and doors that may not exist now could open wide. If my brain is healthy and my thoughts are meaningful and conscious decisions are made, financial and professional success will follow, I am absolutely certain of it.

By minimizing the stuff in our home and in our minds, we allow more room for a meaningful life.

From The Minimalists:

Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

I recently had girlfriends over and we discussed marriage, work, kids, travel, all the issues we are faced with being in our forties. I wanted to show them my closet and we took a little trek upstairs into my room and I gave them a tour. They were blown away. I have minimized my clothes to the point where I only have a few choices. I have about 6 t-shirts, 3 pairs of jeans, a few dresses, and a handful of tops. This keeps my closet organized and tidy all of the time now. Before I couldn’t find anything, clothes were strewn about, I went shopping more because I thought I didn’t have what I needed. Whenever I walked in there, I would feel stress.

By minimizing my closet (and many areas in my home and in my mind), I have allowed space to open up for other things, such as reading, going on walks with friends, taking an online writing class, and allowing more time for creativity. Now, I feel a sense of calm and peace when I enter my closet, this feeling is much more sustainable than the feeling I would get when I bought something new. I’m training my brain to find that little dopamine rush in alternative and sustainable ways.

I challenge you to question the way you are currently doing things. Can you reduce things in your life that would allow more space for meaning?