The Measure

Exploring what it means to be a better man.

When Having Less Stuff Means Having More Happiness

An increasing number of people are learning to value experience over things.

October 8th, 2015

How many Apple products do you need to find happiness? Maybe a Macbook, iPhone and Apple Watch? Throw an iPad Mini in there, too? Did you hear they just received a patent for a “smart ring”? Or maybe we’ll all finally find inner peace when Tim Cook’s self-driving cars are puttering us around and we suddenly have time to read or talk to each other…or scroll through our iPhones a few minutes more per day.

There’s also a strong possibility that true contentment and an obsession with things are mutually exclusive. Minimalism isn’t just an interior design approach – it is a way of life that is backed up by science and numerous case studies of lives well lived. In our ever-connected world, focusing on experiences instead of stuff is a growing lifestyle choice.  

According to a Facebook post from your gluten-free friend, The Buddha tells us that “attachment is the root of suffering.”

Hemingway famously lived for experiences (sailing, hunting, Daiquiri-drinking), not things. His minimalism even pervaded his writing and now his “Iceberg Theory,” where the writer understands the totality and context of a subject (the “iceberg”) but only includes a sliver of it in a story, is a huge influence in American literature.  

There’s also scientific evidence to back this up. A 2009 study conducted at San Francisco State University found that purchasing experiences resulted in greater happiness compared to purchases of physical possessions.

Why? The researchers found that experiences – international travel, movie tickets, a good meal – lit up our higher-order human needs including social connectedness and vitality (i.e., the feeling of being alive, an awesome emotion by definition).

“People still believe that more money will make them happy, even though 35 years of research has suggested the opposite,” lead researcher Ryan Howell explained in a statement. “Maybe this belief has held because money is making some people happy some of the time, at least when they spend it on life experiences.”

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The decluttered life has plenty of adherents. Joshua Becker has received international media attention for his blog, Becoming Minimalist, where he dissects our culture of materialism and how to remove oneself from it. Some of his most popular posts of all time delve into why you should escape consumerism, how to own less clothing and how to give your kids gifts they will never forget.

Another excellent resource for those looking to live a life with less stuff is The Minimalists blog manned by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. With a readership of over 4 million, this blog provides excellent guides to simplifying your life.

But you’re too busy to try any of this, right? Chances are, you aren’t – and you’re lying to yourself and others about your level of busyness. A recent survey of 10,000 people worldwide by marketing research firm Havas Worldwide found that only 1 in 3 respondents actually have too much to do all the time, with 41 percent admitting they overstate their obligations. Apparently, we also aren’t fooling anyone; 60 percent of those surveyed said they thought others were faking how busy they are. The Havas survey found that people equated having free time with being non-essential, so they faked being busy in order to look more essential.

Minimalists turn this idea on its head: for the decluttered, free time is one of the most essential things in life.  

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