Thursday, 8 March 2012

Why We Buy



“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” Will Rogers


If you ask a person why they work, the short answer will normally be, “So I can get paid.” Why else would we volunteer to spend such a large portion of our lives engaged in activities that we don’t necessarily want to do? Granted, there are those souls who have found their passion in life and love what they do, as well as those who feel a genuine need to work, but the rest of us show up because we are providing an exchange of services for wealth. We require our paycheck for the necessities in life (food, water, shelter) but more so than that, wealth provides comfort. Money may not be able to buy us happiness, but it can ensure we have plenty of distractions from our displeasure. It’s much nicer to cry on a yacht than a sidewalk.

But how much is enough? Do we “need” the yacht or is it just a distraction? Even harder is the question of whether or not we even want the yacht. How much of your time are you spending to earn a paycheck to buy things you don’t want, but feel you “have” to have? Is your desire fueled by your values or your need to belong and blend in with everyone else?

To clarify, I’m not an advocate of throwing out everything you have in favor of the simple life and I’m not saying that consumerism is evil. I don’t personally want to imagine a world where I don’t have an iTouch, but I bought it because I knew it would bring me years of pleasure. It’s a product that has far surpassed the investment I put in to earn it, and I bought it because I knew it was the product I wanted. I literally wear my electronics out, and I love every minute of them. Through excessive trial and error, I have learned which products I like and I know that when I’m buying an iTouch, I’m buying it because it is the best product I have found, not because of loyalty to Apple or what people think of me for owning it.

On the flip side, I also own a Dooney and Bourke purse. I purchased this bag because of the brand. I wanted to look successful and grown up, and thought a name brand bag would add a bit of polish to my style. It has not brought me the level of happiness I thought it would, because I know I bought it for the sake of outside opinion. As an overall investment, it ended up being a great choice. It is of superior quality to other purses I have owned, and it is still in perfect condition after years of wear and tear. Had I researched and come to this conclusion before I bought it, I have no doubt that I would be happier with my decision. Instead, I will always know that I carry my insecurities in my hand with this purse.

My desire to show off with a name brand handbag demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding between intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Intrinsic goals are the objects in our lives that result in nurturing relationships, taking care of our health, and engaging in worthwhile pursuits: things that make us happy that come from within the self. Extrinsic goals are built on our desire to pull our happiness from outside of ourselves, or to fill a void with external materials. We feel a fleeting sense of happiness and relief when we purchase something we desire, but as Samuel Franklin wrote in The Psychology of Happiness, “momentary pleasures do not add up to happiness. A good life comes from growing, actualizing, and fulfilling possibilities” (54).

The theme of today is to spend a few moments thinking about the good life and what my own personal possibilities are, and then to reprioritize my time to focus on my intrinsic goals.


Franklin, Samuel S. The Psychology of Happiness: A Good Human Life. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.

1 comment:

  1. The good life.....Nichomachean Ethics.....Aristotle. Must do it.

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