I was just reading an article about how people preparing to retire are getting rid of all their stuff. Apparently, the stuff they had acquired was making them ill, stressed out and unhappy. They equated their freedom with trashing their stuff.
More and more couples are coming to therapy saying that they hate their jobs, but cannot leave them. They feel burdened, old, and worn out. They go to work to buy more stuff and the more stuff makes them feel anxious, depressed, and unhappy. The article I was reading reported that for the first time in our history people are reporting unhappiness due to the accumulation of too much stuff rather than too little. The article humorously called this concept "Affluenza."
"Affluenza" makes people as sick as influenza. It leads to stress-related illnesses, emotional upset and physical deterioration. The cure lies in reassessing why you continue buying all this stuff.
Social science studies have repeatedly shown that values are linked to our personal well being and happiness. It appears that people who are driven for intrinsic goals (those that help someone, making a difference in peoples' lives) are much happier than those driven for extrinsic goals (I will look prettier, I will be more popular or have more status, or make more
money). Tim Kasser, professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois reports that in studies crossing all income groups and demographics, the finding is consistent: when people focus on extrinsic values they end up having a worse psychological satisfaction of their needs and end up less happy as a result. Kasser goes on to state that beyond perception of happiness or unhappiness there are physical effects. People more focused on extrinsic
values have more headaches, stomach aches and children raised in extrinsic-focused societies experience these things as well. The people who were focused on extrinsic values also reported more sleep problems.
Since study after study has shown that personal growth and helping others is more likely to promote happiness than money, then why are all of the advertisers still trying to make us want stuff? The newest handbag, shoes, car, laptop, IPad, or whatever stuff you purchase may make you feel happy thoughts for a while, but soon it will add to the stress, headaches,
hypertension, anxiety and depression you may later project on to your job. If you are buying the stuff to make you happy, why is the stuff making you less and less happy? If happiness is about having a sense of well being and feeling healthy, why is it that people who have the most stuff are also more addicted to alcohol, drugs, or other vices in order to escape? If you were happy wouldn't you want to stay in the moment?
I have a few suggestions to help you become clear about how much stuff is too much stuff, and how to begin de-cluttering your life.
1. The process of getting rid of stuff should happen way before
retirement or your next move. It should begin at the kitchen table with your
partner, a pen and paper. Ask yourself and each other why do we have all this
stuff, and what are we ready to get rid of?
2. Has your equating stuff to happiness caught on to your kids? If so,
are they constantly asking for new clothes, computer games, cell phones,
and gadgets? Are they any happier than you? Talking to your kids about your
values and what decisions you are making is a talk worth having.
3. Identify a cause. What are your intrinsic gifts? How could you help
if you had more time to give because you weren't so busy working in order
to buy more stuff?
4. Ask yourself, what do you want to leave this world with? Are you
giving yourself to work, only to acquire more stuff? Is this really what you
want? If not, only you can make the changes.
5. What are you teaching your kids? Do they believe money buys stuff
and stuff makes you happy? If so, is that what you want them to believe?
My grandmother had a wonderful motto and she died by it. She never wanted
more than what would fit in a suitcase. She lived in a small apartment most
of her adult life, and worked for other people as a live-in maid. She told
me that having more stuff than would fit in a suitcase felt wasteful. She
was one of the happiest people I ever met, and she died with her kids and
family around her bed. Her estate was small; a big black suitcase, a hat in
a hat box, and several black envelopes filled with cash under her mattress.
- Mary Jo Rapini
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