I recently read an interview of a man named James Roberts who is the author of a new book entitled, Shiny Objects—Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have In Search Of Happiness We Can’t Buy. It’s a great title and I’m sure there are very few people who would disagree with what it says. But while we may agree with that statement, most people continue to try to buy happiness every single day. Not only do a large number of people spend money trying to buy stuff they don’t need or oftentimes even use, many actually go into debt in the process. Others spend money so indiscriminately they might as well throw it out of a speeding car window. So, what’s the deal with money? And what are we searching for that we think money can buy?
According to the interview of James Roberts, he says, “We have short-term amnesia as consumers, and not only are we really not any happier than we were, we’re probably worse off.” Statistics he quotes in his book show that in spite of a huge consumption of material goods in America during the last 40 years, people say they are just as happy as they were in the 70s. Roberts believes part of the problem is that “we have been programmed as human beings to store up materials for the future when there may not be food available. That was a good thing for us when we were living in the era of scarcity. But now in the era of abundance, we haven’t learned that there’s plenty tomorrow. We’re still storing up, and we just never seem to fill that void.”
It makes sense that as a biological imperative we might be concerned about scarcity and the need to stockpile for the future—but what about all the waste? Even Roberts mentions that in a nation where 70% of families live paycheck to paycheck they still toss out 130 million cell phones each year, and as a nation we will likely spend close to $58 billion on our pets in 2011. (ooh, I’m guilty there!) Or have you ever seen the television show “Hoarders?” On those programs, people buy and keep stuff that over the long haul seems to enslave them. What’s going on?
According to Roberts, another big reason we spend money is our lack of self-control. While recent studies have revealed that personal self-control is like a muscle that grows stronger when exercised as well as weakens when overused—most of us are oblivious to that analogy when it comes to money. Roberts suggests that if we practice monetary self-control on a regular basis, we will likely be stronger when faced with purchase decisions. He also recommends that we not shop when we are tired or stressed. Plus, Roberts advises that having concrete and consistent goals to guide us, that and working on our self-awareness, are two practices that help to counter-act habitual or unconscious spending patterns. Finally, Roberts recommends that we avoid alcohol or drugs when faced with money decisions. Every one of those suggestions sound like good advice to me.
All the discussion about unnecessary spending reminded me of one of my favorite stories of all time about a financial advisor who took a trip to a quaint seaside village in Mexico to “relax.” While taking a walk by the harbor, he was horrified to see a Mexican lounging next to his fishing boat smoking a cigar in the middle of the day.
“Why aren’t you out fishing?” asked the financial advisor.
“Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” replied the Mexican with a smile.
“But it’s still early. Surely you could catch a lot more?” said the advisor with a mind clearly working overtime.
The Mexican explained that he had plenty to support his family’s immediate needs.
“But what do you do with your extra time?” asked the mystified advisor.
The fisherman smiled and said, “Oh, I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife Maria, then stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends. I have a full, happy and busy life.”
“But if you kept fishing you could earn a lot more money,” answered the financial advisor with growing excitement. “Then you could buy a bigger boat and go into deeper waters for even more fish. Once you catch enough fish, you could possibly buy another boat and so on and so forth. Before you know it, you could own a fleet of fishing boats and then even open your own cannery. Before long, you could not only control the product, but the processing and distribution. Of course, then you would need to leave this small village, move to Mexico City and then eventually LA. From there you could run your ever expanding empire.”
“But then what?” asked the Mexican with a frown.
“Oh, that’s the best part,” answered the financial advisor. When the time is right you would announce an IPO, sell your company stock to the public, and become an extremely wealthy man. You’d make millions.”
“Millions?” asked the fisherman. “Then what?”
Surprised, the financial advisor stopped and thought a moment before saying quietly. “Then you could retire and move to a small scenic fishing village where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, and then stroll into the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your friends.”
Deep down I think most of us know that shiny objects don’t make us happy. If anything, they might amuse us for a moment or provide a momentary jolt of pleasure. Instead, SMART Living shows us that real happiness is a sense of peace and joy that radiates from the inside out when we are doing what we love, with the people we love, on a regular basis.
For More about this topic:
“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” –Steve Jobs
“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.” –Benjamin Franklin