Shiny Objects

If I won the lottery...

We hear people utter this phrase all the time with hopeful aspirations of infinite happiness. I've actually told close friends in such conversations that I have no desire to win the lottery or ever be that rich. People are usually surprised by this. Aren't we all supposed to have the lottery dream?

I'm about to tell all here. I've never admitted this online, but I was once married to a millionaire. It didn't end well, and I'm happily divorced. Happily. I'm actually happier and more gratified with my simple life than I ever was living the lifestyle of the rich and famous. That's actually why I started the Greater Good Life. I have the perspectives of being rich and living in the lap of luxury and being simple and living modestly. I once stayed in a hotel suite in Sorrento, Italy, that cost $700/night. Contrast that with my recent trip to Nicaragua, where I stayed in a hostel costing just $6/night. I choose the latter, hands down. When I got divorced, I sold most of my possessions (used the money toward my master's degree that was already in progress), and I don't miss anything! The book, Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don't Have in Search of Happiness We Can't Buy by James A. Roberts, explains why.

Roberts explains we are spending our lives on "the treadmill of consumption." Similar to a drug addict that needs more and more of a fix to achieve a high, this treadmill is our barrier to happiness because we quickly adapt to having material things and take them for granted. To keep up on the treadmill, we seek more and more possessions -- shiny objects-- to improve our satisfaction.

Roberts is a marketing professor and this book takes an academic approach, sighting study after study of how riches don't buy happiness. He also spends a couple well-researched chapters reviewing our nation's cultural history, events such as the San Francisco Gold Rush and the Dot-Com bust that have shaped our view of the "American Dream" -- a materialistic dream connected to owning homes, cars, furniture, appliances, etc.

After ploughing through some history, the book takes a practical turn, even including self-assessments to determine your attitude toward status consumption, whether you are a compulsive buyer, how you handle spending and where you fall on a Spendthrift/Tightwad scale.

Still, it's a true marketing text, visiting classic theories such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations and the concept of Opinion Leadership (the latter two my favorites that I use in my own social media marketing research). Assuming most people do not have a marketing background, Roberts sets a good foundation of marketing principles to guide you through his extensive research on materialism. As consumers, we have a responsibility to learn how marketers motivate us, and this is just the book to do it.

Roberts offers a number of astounding anecdotes and facts throughout the book. My favorite touching on sustainability:

A shocking statistic about our throwaway society comes from international sustainability expert Annie Leonard's animated documentary The Story of Stuff, which examines our consumer society. Leonard discovered that after six months, only 1 percent (!) of all products we purchase is still in use. A full 99 percent has been relegated to dumps around the world -- or worse, is polluting our natural environment. (p. 209).

Later in the book, Roberts discusses the lost art of self-control, where we can learn how to modify our consumer behaviour. He explains we exercise self control when "we act in a way that is far-sighted; we think of the long-term effects of our actions rather than the immediate, short term pleasures." He goes on to explain three ingredients of self control: monitoring yourself, setting clear standards and developing the capacity to change.

The final chapters of the book focus on modifications we can make and practical tips for being less materialistic, including "25 Tweaks to Financial Tranquility." This is the good stuff, right here. I'll give you just a few: pay with cash instead of credit card, stop watching television, avoid shopping malls and keep track of your spending (even allotting envelopes with cash for certain portions of your budget, such as an envelope labeled "grocery money"). There are a lot of practical tips in this section, definitely making the book a worthwhile investment of your money and time.

Turn off the TV and pick up this book. Learn about how we've become a culture of consumers, and spend some of your own time truly reflecting on your lifestyle. It's likely you will agree with his argument that materialism is ruining our chances for happiness, our relationships and our environment, among other things. Simply taking the time to investigate why we're materialistic is a step forward in the direction of happiness and living the good life.

Product review disclaimer: An organization representing the author provided me a complimentary copy of this book for review. The reviews on this blog are truthful and honest opinions, not advertisements. While I was provided a complimentary product in exchange for a review, I was not obligated to write a favorable review. I promise to only review products that I believe are relevant and interesting to Greater Good Life readers.

Chel Rogersonbudget, happiness