Harder Ways: How to Buy Your Happiness

read first: Harder Ways: Introduction

retail therapy

This previous Sunday, as I was watching the Super Bowl amidst 30 screeching fraternity brothers, I came across a Snapchat story from a company called Nifty with the feature title of “33 Affordable Little Products That Will Make You So Much Happier.”

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Reading through the overly-long list of items, it dawned on me that the collection was just full of the most novelty, useless, eye-twitch-inducing products such as “A pair of Disney-inspired sunglasses that will do in a Stitch“, “A set of awkward family portrait coasters”, and “a pie-shaped purse,” among dozens of others.

Which, of course, pissed me off. Snapchat, a company with a massive user base of 57+ million people, has the target of the very impressionable, ranging from 13 to 35, which is about 80% of their target audience.

iPhone 7 = Happiness?

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across an ad selling “happiness” like this. AT&T once ran an advertisement featuring “Happiness is the new iPhone 7” as their slogan. How can happiness be or be in an electronic device? How can happiness, something so abstract and sought after by the entirety of humankind, have a price tag?

Of course, what companies are really trying to sell is retail therapy, the over-consumers’ version of “happiness”. You swipe a credit card in a store or click “place order” on a website, it feels good to know that you have that kind of power. Opening something new gives us that rush of feel-good chemicals.

That’s why Christmas feels so good. That’s why your birthday feels so good. You’re getting something new.

Advertisements’ purpose does not solely lie in convincing you to buy a product. Instead, there are hidden and subliminal messages embedded within that can slowly rub off on the millions bombarded by them daily. Studies have shown that we are exposed to a range of 4,000 to 10,000 brand messages every single day through logos on clothing, video advertisements, and sponsored videos.

Inevitably, that will undoubtedly sway your purchase decision.

If these thousands of messages have some kind of subliminal theme attached, could we also be swayed into believing what they’re trying to sell? For example, Lexus is no longer just selling a car, they’re selling a lifestyle of luxury and high-class. Monster is not just selling an energy drink, it’s selling high performance, increased courage, and skill. 

And Coca-Cola? Happiness in a bottle.

coca_cola_straws.jpg

The negative repercussions on the very young and impressionable are groundbreaking. Companies are informing them they can now buy happiness. Even worse, they’re telling their target audience that they are unhappy because they don’t have a certain object. “You are miserable without this.” “You need this to be happy.” 

This needs to stop. If we don’t start seeing the inherent problem with these kinds of messages, these companies’ advertisements have won us over. An entire generation will be convinced to be more materialistic with the pursuit of happiness blinded by the pursuit for profit. 

There’s an old joke that goes “money might not buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a Lamborghini.”

Thankfully, psychological studies have proven that materialistic people are more depressed and dissatisfied with their life’s situation. Even the richest people in the world are subjected to the same degree of suffering that those who are less fortunate undergo. The feeling of never having enough, never having more, perpetually wanting more — it all adds up and begins weighing us down.

Tsang and her research team ran a psychological study on materialistic people and their life satisfaction. They discovered that people who desire more are more likely to be less grateful for what they already have and, instead, focus on the negative (what they don’t have) instead of the positive (what they already have).

Again, I will emphasize my belief that if our belongings do not serve a purpose in our lives, do not sentimentally mean anything, or are not of any use to us, then they’re nothing more than garbage.

I’d recommend reconsidering your purchases based on these principles of buying, not because opening a new box makes you feel better, but because it will make your life more meaningful, fulfilling, and easier. Tearing open an Amazon Prime box will undoubtedly give you a sense of accomplishment, but it’s often short-lived and leaves you feeling emptier than before.

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boredom and self-medication

Now, if we were really desperate to feel “happy” for a while without any effort, we wouldn’t be wasting our money on retail therapy — it’s expensive, not to mention time-consuming. Rather than pushing a cart around in Target or tearing open cardboard boxes, we could opt for something much more potent: drugs.

I’d like to point out that the bad thing is not inherently drugs themselves, but rather the intent and purpose of the user that separates the good from the bad.

Recreationally, they can provide an interesting experience unachievable by anything else humanity has to offer. Even the most immersive of video games wouldn’t be able to top the hallucinogenic effects of LSD or the intense, acute high of cocaine, or so I’ve heard.

However, it is important to consider that someone with a fulfilling life, one with plenty of healthy social connections, little financial stress, and an otherwise healthy mind is very unlikely to turn to something along the lines of codeine or marijuana to feel good — they’re already in a state of stable happiness.

Happy people usually have no reason to do drugs.

The why of it is simple: there’s no work to doing drugs. They’re the most effortless and accessible way to feel incredible for a short time. Ask around, and you’re bound to find someone who’s got connections. People who are happy do not need to escape from their reality with something that could potentially derail their entire life.

Personally, I think there are two clusters of people that turn to drugs: a group that is bored with their life and another group that is in a very dark period of their life. The way I structure these two groups is like epicenters of an earthquake: the further you get away from the extremes, the less you find these types of people willing to abuse substances. For example, someone might feel only slightly bored and occasionally do drugs to escape from that boredom rather than

A former friend once told me unironically that her principle was “don’t use drugs to enhance your life, use your life to enhance your drugs.” Yikes.

When you’re bored with your life, there’s no focus. There’s nothing providing you with a sense of accomplishment or gratification like furthering your education or exploring a hobby. There’s nothing motivating you to do these things, and your personality is so bland that you couldn’t care to seek out what your purpose in life is.

I’m glad you’re reading this blog because if you’re one of those people, you seriously need some help in finding what is meaningful to you beyond what a crystal or plant can give you.

Negative Drugs

Drugs provide instant gratification beyond what shopping, sexual activities, or eating a lot of good food can even come close to. Yet, since it is the purest form of rewarding ourselves for doing essentially nothing, it programs our mind to seek out more intense euphorias and potent substances to keep filling in that chasm following each high.

So, whenever someone like in this example feels like there’s nothing to do, they indulge in this vicious cycle.

Second, people who are in a very dark place, one devoid of pleasure or meaning, often self-medicate with drugs. It might be as mild as minimizing anxiety at a party or as extreme as trying to suppress a festering mental illness.

Drugs are very inviting, and they will be for as long they exist. What other activity can give you such a rush or make you feel relaxed in a matter of minutes? People with anxiety may drink to stop feeling so jittery as alcohol is a depressant and people with depression may turn to stimulants to feel something exhilarating, contrasting from their usual low moods.

I was one of these people. Plagued by extended periods of melancholy and feelings of worthlessness, I tried things like marijuana, drinking, and even vaping to escape from an otherwise bleak existence. Temporarily, feelings of bliss, confidence, and mellowness were followed by hangovers, panic attacks, and worse.

The results of my personal, not-very-scientific case study?

It doesn’t work. It’s very temporary and more often than not, it’ll set you back further than whence you came. Drugs are not the solution, but rather a distraction from a deeper problem. I was depressed, feeling like there was no purpose to my life anymore. Video games, retail therapy, and self-medicating with substances were my coping mechanisms for my crisis.

However, after finding a true calling for my life in college and on this blog, it was a breeze to put everything down and turn my back on it all.

If you are within either group, know that there is still hope. Put it down and face a more certain path, one with long-term benefits that don’t leave your body in shambles, your mind a wreck, or your financial situation in tatters.

Obviously, one of these is much easier to go cold-turkey on than the other. Retail therapy can be curbed by cutting up credit cards, blocking certain websites (online retailers), or having credit card companies lower your credit limit. You’ll save money, have less garbage sitting around, and start searching for new additions to life that will actually bring you joy.

Drugs, on the other hand, are far harder to ditch. But, if exchanged for a healthy lifestyle with the aforementioned cocktail of meaningful friends, hobbies, and a major life goal, the dependence on a substance will no longer be there. Building up confidence no longer means you need to binge drink on the weekend just so you can dance with strangers. Finding a way to manage your anxiety will mean you will no longer be dependent on pills to calm you down.

The easy way: choosing an instantly gratifying activity (retail therapy, drugs) to feel happy.

The hard way: leading a meaningful life with activities that bring you joy, people to support and console you, as well as a major goal that you want to be achieved. In this article’s case, it involves addressing the root cause of an issue instead of the symptoms.

Practice positive primary prevention. Now that’s an alliteration you can memorize.

Choose the hard way. In the long run, you are investing in a healthier, more wholesome future. Positive behaviors will set you up for success and will undoubtedly leave you in a better place than when you started.

Make it a point to address the problem before it becomes too much of a burden on you. The band-aid approach will always be temporary. If the root cause is not addressed, you will be trying to alleviate the symptoms forever. You will never be able to buy happiness for yourself. Even the most potent of drugs won’t have euphoric effects lasting forever.

Address the root cause.

Thanks for reading,

-LQH

P.S. A huge shoutout to Nick P. who has become the first to become a patron on my Patreon. Thank you for all of the support.

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