Ask any of the happiest people you know what makes them happy, and I’m willing to bet their answer will have nothing to do with material possessions.
That’s interesting, isn’t it? Especially when you consider how consumerist our culture has become.
The truth is, the happiest people on earth are quite the exception, in the sense that they are immune to materialism and all the trappings of success.
Why is that the case? How come they don’t fall into the trap of wishing for more, more, more?
In this article, I’ll talk about nine reasons why they don’t care about material possessions. I’m pretty sure we can all learn from their wisdom!
1) They understand that happiness is an inside job
First things first – the happiest people know that happiness is a state of mind.
For some people, they’ll only realize this when they’ve finally gotten everything they wished for – fancy cars, designer clothes, a posh lifestyle – and yet they feel like something’s missing.
For others, it may come in the face of a loss. Maybe their business failed or they lost their job, and they suddenly have to downsize to a simpler lifestyle.
I know some people who have gone through this, and every single time, they’ve come out the other end feeling much more content and happy. Despite having less!
You know why? Because with all of those material distractions gone, they had to discover other ways to be happy. And when you don’t have much, what do you have left to focus on?
Well, your relationships. Your health. Experiences like learning something new or visiting new places.
That shift in focus is what leads us to the realization that happiness is a matter of perspective. And that the pursuit of happiness is active, not passive, not dependent on external factors.
We won’t be happy “when [insert goal] happens.” We DECIDE to be happy, no matter our circumstances.
2) They are more focused on personal growth
So, now that we’ve established that happiness is an inside job, it naturally follows that the happiest people are all about personal growth.
Once again, look at the happiest people you know. Chances are, you’ll find them getting more excited at the thought of learning something new than of buying something new.
They’d rather invest in books, classes, or experiences that widen their horizons. Material possessions take a backseat, sometimes even relegated to the functional.
And you know what? You can see this in how they view people, too. Where most of us would see someone with a lot of possessions as successful, they look past all that and look at the intangible. Specifically, personality and character.
3) They understand that possessions don’t define success
As I mentioned above, the happiest people know that success is never defined by the amount of stuff one owns.
Instead, they measure success in terms of the intangible. Are they kind to others? Do they make a difference out there? Are they living life with a sense of purpose?
Those are the things that matter for happy people. It’s never about the size of their bank account or the kind of car they drive.
This was a real struggle for me in my younger years. Back then, my life revolved around my job, which I hated but paid so well that the idea of making a career change would be laughable.
But after a while, I couldn’t deny that I felt empty. My bank account was full, sure, but it didn’t quite explain that sense of loss I was feeling.
In the end, I decided to pursue what I really wanted to do – teach. And as everyone and their grandma knows, teaching isn’t exactly a moneymaker. But wow, was I happy and finally in my element!
For the first time in my life, I truly felt successful. Which was ironic, considering my now-much-lighter bank account!
4) They value experiences over things
By now, you probably understand that for the happiest people, experiences will always trump material things.
New research shows that there’s a lot of merit to this. People are indeed happier with experiential purchases than with material ones.
Well, mainly because experiences are more meaningful. They connect us with other people and with ourselves, and they make long-lasting memories.
Consider this – how much do you really think about that gorgeous dress you bought three years ago?
Meanwhile, that fantastic road trip you had with your best buddies a decade ago? I’m pretty sure you still bust out stories from that trip when you all get together, don’t you?
5) They cherish relationships
Speaking of meaningful connections brings me to this next point, that the happiest people value their relationships more than their possessions.
Remember the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge? The uber-wealthy man who, for all his money, was deeply unhappy and alone?
There are many real-life Scrooges all over the world. And whenever I hear of one, my heart goes out to them. Because no matter how rich they are, their money can’t keep them warm at night.
I know that’s an unpopular opinion. I can practically hear the wave of protest from people yelling, “Hell no, money is important!”
Well, yes, no one’s disputing that. I’m saying, money is a tool. It should serve us, not the other way around. More importantly, it should never get in the way of our relationships.
Those heart-to-heart conversations with a dear friend? The jokes and laughter around a dinner table with family? Those are priceless and can’t ever be matched by any material possession.
6) They know the value of “living light”
Or, “Less is more.”
For the happiest people, life is best lived free of unnecessary “stuff.”
I mean, wouldn’t everything feel so much lighter when you’ve got less stuff to worry about? The cleaning, the maintenance, the storing…logistically, it’s just a nightmare to be dealing with so much clutter.
You don’t have to go full-on minimalist, although that’s certainly a life philosophy many of the happiest people follow.
But do think about the value of simplicity.
Personally, I find it so liberating to let go of and stop buying stuff I don’t really need. I used to be a kitchen gadget nut; whenever something new came out that promised to make my life better, I fell for it.
Fast forward a few weeks later, and I’d find myself with appliances I almost never used. And no space to store them.
Once I really got my act together, I felt so much freer – from the burden of having to pay for these purchases, then stashing them somewhere or disposing of them once I got tired of them.
7) They understand the futility of the comparison game
Okay, this one’s probably going to sound familiar to you – the comparison game. I think every one of us has compared ourselves to other people at one point in our lives.
But constantly doing it isn’t fruitful, and the happiest people know just how useless it is.
Because the reality is, comparison is an outward-facing exercise that ends up making us feel frustrated.
Not only that, the happiest people have an abundant mindset. They believe that there’s enough for everyone. Just because someone else has more of something doesn’t mean that they have less.
8) They know the true costs of material things
And by costs, I’m not just talking about the financial costs.
I’m talking about the intangibles that come with the price tag, such as:
- The number of extra hours you have to work overtime to pay for an expensive purchase
- The missed dinners/outings you won’t spend with your family or friends because you’re working
- The anxiety of paying for unnecessary bills
- The fun experiences you could have spent that money on instead
- The stress of social pressure and keeping up
I’m sure there are lots more, but you get the gist.
The happiest people may not be the wealthiest, but they certainly are free of these chains.
9) They feel like they already have enough
I remember when my son was in fourth grade, he came home saying, “Mom, you know, my classmate asked me if we’re rich.”
That got my attention, for sure. I asked, “And what did you say?”
He said, “I told him we have enough.”
Oh, I tell you, that made my mommy heart so happy. I won’t lie, it was one of my proudest moments in life.
You see, one of my biggest dreams for my son was for him to grow up appreciating what he had. Feeling like he already had enough. Because I know that for him to be happy, he has to learn how to be grateful.
I’m not saying we should never try to achieve more or do better. But it’s important to not lose sight of our everyday blessings along the way.
Because gratitude is the key to contentment. It encourages us to appreciate what we already have, instead of zeroing in on what we don’t. Instead of relentlessly pursuing more.
Plus, it shifts our perspective from one of scarcity to one of abundance. When we appreciate our health, the people in our lives, or even the simple joys, we see how rich we already are.
Before I go, I just want to emphasize that this isn’t about completely shunning material possessions. We do need them to a certain extent.
That’s the key phrase there – to a certain extent. It’s never wise to use them as sources of happiness or to shape our life’s ambitions around them.
Not if we want to achieve the kind of happiness that lasts a lifetime.