What a Lot Of Things I Don’t Need!
Short Take: Living Fully
Recently, I had time to kill while waiting to have dinner. I did this by walking Centrepoint Mall at Orchard. This used to be one of my favourite hangouts, and it’s got something of interest for everyone, from books to toys to cooking ware to music instruments. But as I window shopped, a famous utterance from Socrates kept springing to mind.
“What a lot of things I don’t need!”
Socrates lived when Athens was going through a Golden Age… fuelled from the spoils of war. Forcing democracy on others at the point of a sword, Athens subjugated many free Greek states, benefitting materially as well. (Sound familiar?)
A ‘by-the-way’ of that ‘evangelization’ was riches, from the rarest of precious metals to the sweetest of exotic herbs. The city achieved a state of opulence, and great monuments and bronze statues erected during this time served to remind all of what Athens had achieved. Consistent chasing – and showing – of material wealth was de rigueur.
Ancient Athens was materialistic.
Socrates, iconoclast that he was, was known to walk the markets, look at the huge selection of wares, and then snort “What a lot of things I don’t need!”
In a way, society today shares many aspects of what Golden Age Athens was. We’re living in an age of conspicuous consumption, with a yearning for opulence.
An emphasis on the 5Cs, the driver of social status today. Pressures to meet standards from the dating game to the working game. Taunts by rich expatriates like the infamous Anton Casey. All have conspired to make us more driven to acquire the material trappings of success.
And that’s why Socrates’ proclamation is so timely.
Out of everything we’re toiling and slaving to pay for, racking up credit card debt or crippling instalments, how much of it do we really need? And why?
Easy answer: we want to be happy and we associate happiness with
- Having things and/or
- Showing them off
Hierarchy of Needs
Recall this pyramid from school? The base represents your most fundamental needs, and the upper tiers your higher ones.
Frugal Socrates had more ascetic inclinations than most of us, and would probably make buying decisions based on physiological needs like food and shelter.
Many of us though, buy things to fulfil the higher levels.
The next tier up – safety – is easily justifiable. But when we buy things in an effort to acquire love, senseof belonging, and self-esteem, conspicuous consumption has a way of consuming us with greed and desire, then spitting us out spent and unfulfilled.
Because there are cut-off points at which we can say
“I am no longer hungry.”
“I am not thirsty now.”
“I don’t feel cold anymore.”
“I am out of the wind and rain now.”
However, there are no limits to how much love and self-esteem we crave. It is difficult to say
“I feel loved enough. No more!”
“I feel so good about myself, it’s enough!”
“I have enough admiration/jealousy from my colleagues/ peers/ friends/ enemies. I’m satisfied with that.”
You can always have more.
And if the way you get these things is to buy more things,
You will always want more.
That’s the danger for people who buy more and more things, from unnecessary enhancements to Veblen goods like Maybach cars, diamonds, silverware, pet jewelry, and branded goods that would – if brandless – be considered downright ugly.
Their happiness consists in what they HAVE, and what they can GET.
Very little of that happiness comes from who they ARE, and what they DO.
What to Do?
I believe many of us don’t even realize when we’ve become caught in materialistic pursuits. So here are three ideas to get you started.
- Consider your roles in three areas. Relationships. Contribution. Personal Development.
If your schema of achieving happiness does not involve any of these three things, Stop. Ask: Am I really going where I want to be going?
- Don’t kill yourself with abstinence though. Buy the things you want if you can afford it, and if you genuinely feel will make your Life better off, but before you do, ask yourself:
Am I buying this because I want to have it, or am I buying this just to show others I have it?
- Write down a list of everything you think will make you happy. Then, categorize them under major headings like
If there is a predominant overweight under HAVE/ GET, consider rebalancing.
These three ideas are a starting point to understanding where we are in our quest for happiness. I suspect if more of our fulfilment comes from our relationships, contribution, and personal development, we’d indeed amaze ourselves by “What a lot of things we don’t need!”