February 9th, 2012

Three Ways to Break Free From the Chain of Consumerism

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Breaking Free From the Chains of Consumerism
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from TJ Chasteen of How-toBeHappy.com.

So you want to be happy, yet you find one of the largest hindrances to this is the amount of time you slave away at work. Day after day you dread waking-up, hit snooze 16 times (you were smart enough to set the clock a tad bit early), roll out of bed, go waste valuable life in exchange for currency, come home watch TV, and repeat. Sounds familiar right? Well that’s how it works for nearly everyone, in a matter of fact it is so common that it seems normal!

But my friend I am here to tell you it is not normal at all, it is conditioned… And it can be broken once you find the culprit (soon to be revealed).

Dig a Little Deeper

My darling girlfriend of many many years, was watching Disney’s The Princess and The Frog when a cute old lady with a triple neck bursts into a musical. The theme of the song was that in order to be happy we must not know what we “want” but instead know what we “need”. To do this we must dig a little deeper inside ourselves to find out what we really value in life. Oh great you’re thinking, this guy is going to take that old route (live on necessities only). No that’s not what I am suggesting, however it is a smidgen similar.

Our culture has taught us that in order to be happy we must follow a familiar pattern. One that looks something like this: Step A + Step B + Step C + Step D = Happiness. With the steps following a similar pattern to these:

Step A – Spend loads getting a sound education, have a blast doing it, and obtain everything you want during this youthful stage.

Step B – Use your education and go get yourself a good job.

Step C – Spend the next 35 + years working your tail off until you pay everything back from Step A.

Step D – Congrats you are 60+ and if life worked out perfectly you get to spend the rest of your health-ridden life doing as you please. However, many find this impossible because they do not know how to live a life that is different than the one they’ve had for so long!

Wow glamorous right? Most people have been so dog-gone busy that they have not even had time to look at their own lives to see if they are a current victim. Are you? hmm…

These Culprits Double Team Us

What I am suggesting is to simply have less “wants” and have less expense to live free. Easier said than done, sure. In American society (I realize many readers come from elsewhere), the system functions on consumerism. Our citizens are constantly being tempted with new gizmos and gadgets. Buy the iPhone 3 to be cool, (shortly after) buy the iPhone 4 to be cool, (shorty after) buy the iPhone 4s to be cool. It’s ridiculous and insane the way things work here and in many similar countries. The pressure to fit in with peers and regular members of society is extreme and to do that one must continue to consume.

The irony is that in an attempt to get away from work and find true happiness, people trap themselves in it even more deeply.

How do people have fun outside of work?

  • $$$ Bar
  • $$$ Dinner
  • $$$ Vacation
  • $$$ Movies

What do people do to cure depression and unhappiness caused by working every free day of their lives?

  • $$$ Shopping spree
  • $$$ Spa
  • $$$ Manicure
  • $$$ New “Toys” (Computer, Truck, Fishing Pole) ~~~ Sorry girls, the list was becoming a bit female dominated.

In order to pay for all of these short term solutions to happiness, trapped consumers of the world must continue chugging along and hooting their stem engines while they work to support the habit.

Having more wants only means having more failures. The more we want the more chances of not getting everything we desire, resulting in sadness. To want less is to appreciate what we have. If we want less we depend on money less and slowly develop a sense of liberation from it.

Expenses are the real chain keeping you locked away from happiness – A consumer can never be free of work unless they learn to have less expenses. When you really sit back and look at it, are the things that force you to work worth the time you spend trading life for them? For example is a $30.00 Pampered Chef Magic Chopper really worth the 1, 2, 3 hours someone gives away at work to earn it? Or would it have been perfectly okay for them to have spent an extra 15 seconds a meal chopping the carrots themselves? (Who knows how much time one of those things would save you anyhow, plus like most things bought with the traded life people spend to earn them, it would probably end up in the landfill.) Way to be green happy consumers!

Three Ways to Break Free

If you truly wish to beat the system then you must be willing to make a HUGE life adjustment. One must learn to “dig a little deeper” and live by being able to fulfill their needs by working less.

1) Work less – Your time is more valuable than the money you trade it for. Learn to live with a lower amount of expenses that way you can spend less time chained up working. Some people manage this by working a seasonal or part-time position where they bring in enough money to cover their needs. As long as your expenses are covered then the rest of your time can be spent living. Make sure you are working to live, not living to work.

2) Stockpile – Another great strategy is to work hard for a number of years while saving like crazy and spending very little. The idea behind this is to save up enough money to live on the interest. While working yourself to death certainly isn’t a solution to break free, it is a solution should it be for a limited number of years. If you can manage to save up enough money in 15 years to live on it’s interest and therefore retire early, then you by all means have beat the system.

3) Make your money work for you – When consumerists run out to the stores and spend their hard earned greenbacks on materialistic things, their money isn’t working for them. Their money is instead working for 1% of the population which holds 99% of the wealth. To make your money work for you figure out exactly what you need it for and see past the cultural trends of throwing it away on useless items that will be discarded in the near future. This doesn’t mean be cheap. If you need pots and pans by the best darn pots and pans there are that way you don’t ever have to replace them! However avoid the other little cheapo nick-knacks that line the shelves of Wally World.

A Real-World Example: Jacob the Stockpiler

There are people who learn to live on as little as $20,000 or even $7,000 a year such as Jacob Fisker.

Jacob was a stockpiler, he managed to retire in his 30′s by working hard and being a slave to his job for five years while living on 7,000 a year. After saving an amount he was satisfied with he was able to use the money saved and retire by living only on its interest! For example, 140,000 dollars makes an interest of 5% per year which would give Jacob the $7000 he needed everyday to survive. And yes his health insurance is included in this number. Of course 7,000 probably won’t cut it for many people but it is a strategy for living frugally for a set number of years 10, 15, 20 (still beats 35 any day) and then retiring before one is too old to walk the beach without a cane.

If you’re not happy now, ask yourself what really makes you happy? Would more free time but a simpler life spent with those who matter be a better solution?

tj chasteen
TJ Chasteen is the founder of How-toBeHappy.com. TJ believes nothing is more important than living a life full of happiness. He promotes free happiness research, strategies, and how-to guides to improve life-long happiness on his blog.

Chains image copyright Sfu.Marcin – Flickr.com

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