zen habits : breathe

9 Tips to Throw Off the Chains of Consumerism

Photo by fazen

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Scott Young.

You already have everything you need. Those of us lucky enough to have been born in this time period in the Western world are experiencing an abundance few of our ancestors could have claimed. Food, clean water, shelter, law and order are almost guaranteed.

Why doesn’t it feel this way? Despite this amazing abundance, why are so many people dissatisfied? Are we doomed to always want more than we have, even if it won’t bring us more happiness?

You Can’t Live in a Vacuum
As soon as basic needs are met, your focus immediately shifts onto creating new problems. Even if poverty, exile from the population or violence are remote threats, new problems fill their place. Our cultural obsession with consumption is a by-product of this need to seek out new problems.

The solution is to find something else to fill the vacuum. Instead of mindlessly adopting the quest for material perfection, look at it critically. You don’t need to sell all your worldly belongings and become a monk, but see what other things can fill the space consumption occupies in your mind.

Here are a few suggestions for how to escape the chains of consumerism:

1. Process over Results. Why are you trying to get rich? Is it simply to be wealthy, or is it because the process of making money interests you. When you focus on the process leading to a goal over the results, you can be satisfied regardless of whether you succeed or fail.

2. Eliminate Noise. Simplify your life. Stop spending money on things that add noise and distract you from meaningful aspects of life. Don’t use your paycheck as the determinant of how much you spend. Lifestyle expansion erodes the base it was founded on as buying new things fails to make you more satisfied.

3. Let Go of Dust. Don’t spend your life avoiding risks to protect what you have. If you aren’t able to let go of your possessions then those objects own you. Doing a job you hate to maintain a lifestyle you don’t need is insanity.

4. Relationships and Status Also Enslave. I’m using the theme of material consumption here, but it applies equally to seeking relationships, status or physical perfection. Anytime results dominate over process, it becomes easy to get trapped.

5. Trash Regularly. Regularly go through your belongings and trash the things you aren’t using. Having a high turn-over rate of physical possessions can mean you are buying too many things to begin with, but it is still better than simply racheting up the amount you own.

6. You Aren’t Possessions, Status or Employment. If you view your identity as being your job, social status or material wealth, these things will dominate your life. Defining yourself isn’t an easy task, but these are bad ways to start.

7. Avoid “I’ll Be Happy When…” Don’t view happiness as anything that exists beyond the present. When you start imagining that happiness exists in things outside yourself, you’ll always be at a loss when trying to find it. Focus on the now and processes over results.

8. Be Non-Competitive. Competition drives consumerism. The zero-sum game of who can have the most stuff before you die. Break the urge to compete with other people and you release the trap it puts you in. Competition can be useful as a driving force for improvement and change, but when winning becomes more important than playing you get caught in a trap.

9. Positions are Equal, Process is Not. Once basic needs are fulfilled, most positions are relatively equal given a brief time to adapt. This means you will be just as happy with a $30,000 per year as with $300,000. This seems counter-intuitive, but even new psychological research is beginning to find that positions have less influence on happiness than we believe. The difference is process. Some processes can be interesting, fun, challenging and stimulating and others dull, forced and painful. A focus on process is the best way I know to slide off the chains of consumerism.

Scott Young is a blogger on learning, productivity and habits. You can check out his website here.

See also:

Become a breath-taking reader: rss | email | twitter