At the beginning of last year I became curious about attachment to things as a source of happiness.
By things I mean material items, or people, or jobs and opportunity.
How often have you walked past an article of clothing in a shop window and thought, ‘Ooh I need to buy that!’ because you know it will make you feel good?
It is also very common to believe that when we meet that special person and fall in love, that will bring us happiness, or if we win that dream job, buy the car and fill our lives with people, they will fulfill us.
Last year I made the decision to challenge my own definition of happiness and my attachment to things to see what would happen.
So I made the declaration to myself at the beginning of 2019 that I would not buy any non-essential items as new for the remainder of the year. This meant clothes, shoes, household items and so on. I created the rule for myself that if I really wanted or needed any of those items they had to be sourced from thrift shops.
I have never considered myself as overly materialistic, but I was not prepared for the initial resistance that came up for me..
The first time I denied myself a new item of clothing, there was an element of panic that set in.
I felt like I was less than.
Boom, mic drop moment right there!
I realised I had allowed myself to believe all the conditioning, advertising and consumerism that having more things means we are worth more.
What a croc!
While this may be true in a financial sense, it doesn’t make us a better human.
We want more so we work more, and when we work more we are busier. The busier we get, the more overwhelmed we get, the more unhappy we become, and the more our earth is filled with ‘stuff’ that we just don’t need.
We create a cycle for ourselves that perpetuates more stress and we end up with little time to enjoy all our things.
After learning this awareness about myself I began to understand what happiness meant to me.
I turned what initially felt quite confronting into a game. I started to ‘hear’ my inner dialogue around my self worth that I could no longer ignore. And when I really wanted or needed something new, before sourcing it at the thrift shop I would donate an article of clothing first. One out before one in.
What I learned about myself is that experiences are what connects me to my deepest happiness.
The more I threw out, the lighter I felt and the more I chose to experience, the more fulfilled I became.
Spending time with my people is what makes me happy, and they don’t care if I wear the same clothes every time I see them!
I would rather spend my money on visiting my bestie interstate than having extra pairs of shoes in my wardrobe. I also much prefer to share a meal, a wine and a cheek-hurting belly laugh with friends, or go to the theatre, than having more pairs of jeans.
While I’m incredibly grateful for all we do have in our lives, I could easily become minimalist. This is something I realise will take a while to achieve with a large family of adult children. Hash tag, long term goals!
For now, I remain mindful of those impulses that occasionally pop up. I instead pause, and ask myself if I really need it or do I ‘want’ it. I then consider if I want that ‘thing’ to take up space.
The Buddhists are on to something with their belief that attachment creates suffering.
The more we have, the more we fear we will lose.
To have less feels freeing.
To experience more is to feel joy.
So how did I survive the year?
I spent a total of $67 on clothes and shoes until October last year. Then I bought something new that I saved for over several months. It was something I wanted, and also gave me the opportunity to support a friend who is a local designer. It was an exchange of joy rather than just a transaction of purchase and supply.
I’m glad I challenged my thoughts and behaviours.
I’ve become more mindful of what really makes me happy.
Spending money, time and energy on my growth makes me happier. Spending money, time and energy with those I love makes me happier.
Maybe it’s time to consider what your true happiness looks like too.
I’d love to hear what you discover about yourself.