Do you need 'stuff' to make you happy?

Allegedly, ‘Money can’t buy you happiness’. I don’t totally agree with this statement. Obviously you can’t actually nip to the shops and buy a bottle of happiness (gin doesn’t count!) however you can buy ‘things’ that may make you happy. But do we actually need these things in order to be happy or can we ‘fix’ being unhappy in a different way? I’ve always been very against the idea that you need money to live a happy and fulfilled life. Perhaps the case because I don’t have tonnes of cash, but that has made me appreciate other things and experiences in my life that have been totally free. I do sometimes feel as though I miss out and I often get envious of friends who constantly have new clothes, new cars and the latest mobile phone. But I’ve discovered that these ‘things’ don’t make me happy. I’ve got a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes, my car is great (playing with fire there!) for what I need it for, and I was super excited when my phone contract ended because I now only pay £11 a month for a sim only deal! It’s not about not spending your money, but about not spending it on ‘things’ we are made to believe we need to be happy. I’d much rather spend money on going out for a nice meal, having a few drinks at the pub, or going away. I’m not writing this as a sob story or for a sympathy vote. Quite the opposite. I’m writing this to try and convince you that you don’t need to spend money on ‘stuff’ to be happy.

As Summer turns to Autumn, the sun seems to be setting at midday all of a sudden and there’s a familiar chill in the air that’s been hiding away since June. I love Autumn and can’t wait for the frosty mornings and the cosy evenings tucked up by the fire. But I know for some the change in season is an unwelcome one. SAD is a form of depression that seems to have a bit of a ‘hypochondriac’ stigma attached to it. It seems as though it can be dismissed as being miserable at the shorter days, darker evenings, cooler mornings and a sort of nostalgic mourning of the summer. Although there is no official ‘cause’ of SAD, the most commonly believed theory is that the part of the brain affecting the hormones which can make us feel sleepy (melatonin) and can affect our mood, appetite and sleep (serotonin) is affected by the change in sunlight exposure. It is believed that spending less time in the sun can lead to higher levels of melatonin which can make you feel lethargic, and lower levels of serotonin which can make you feel down or depressed. I’m obviously no doctor or psychiatrist, but if this theory is commonly believed in the medical world then I’m going to take it that the more time I spend outside the happier I’ll be!

I often hear snippets of conversation about much wealthier lifestyles than mine and the ‘problems’ these people are facing are laughable. Like not being able to spend as much money on their new home (still at least 5 times what we’ll ever be able to spend on a house!) because they spent too much on the holiday home by the sea. It’s funny until it sinks in just how much money they’re talking about. The things that money could be spent on - the lives that could be changed and even saved. It often makes me wonder if they are happy, or if having that much money means you’re constantly wanting and needing more. Knowing you can always have ‘better’ surely means you’ll never quite be happy with what you’ve got?

I did a little experiment on Instagram and asked people a few questions regarding being happy. I know that the target group here is quite a narrow one, and am under no illusion that these answers can be used to generalise the feelings of a mass population. BUT I was really quite surprised by the results and would like to apologise now for assuming I’d get a lot more materialistic answers! The questions I asked were totally open - there were no answer options.

The first question I asked was ‘What makes you happy?’. The top answer by far was family, followed closely by friends, pets and being outside. Next up was ‘If you’re having a bad day, what do you do to cheer yourself up?’. The most common answer here involved music - either listening or dancing to or playing. The next - and it make me laugh that it’s such a British thing to do - was have a cup of tea! Other common answers revolved around self care - having a bath, taking some time out to appreciate the positive things in life, reading a book or going for a walk/to the gym. The final question I asked was ‘If you could change one thing to be ‘happier’ what would it be?’. These answers were again mostly revolved around self care - to be fitter, have more motivation to exercise or get up earlier, to be closer to family and to have a less stressful work life. The one answer that really stood out for me was ‘to have a tidier house and less clutter’. This couldn’t have been a better answer whilst writing a blog about not needing ‘stuff’ to be happy! I can’t be the only one that feels so much lighter and happier after a good clear out and tidy/clean?!

I was genuinely surprised that I didn’t really get any materialistic answers. I thought perhaps ‘retail therapy’ may be the answer to a rubbish day, and a ‘salary increase’ may lead to a happier life. Although these things may offer a short term plaster, it’s clear that there are more important things in life. In the words of Chuck Palahniuk, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” We get sucked into the lives we ‘should’ be living - you go to school, then college followed by uni. Then you find a job and work to pay bills, buy food and enjoy yourself. It’s the society we live in and it wouldn’t function without money. Being absolutely surrounded by marketing persuading us we need the new iPhone upgrade, the car that can cook for you (obvs not!), or the face cream that’ll leave you forever looking like a 21 year old. We don’t really need any of this, we’re just convinced that we do.

I’m hoping no one has taken this as an attack on their spending habits - that was never the intention! I just think it’s important to sometimes take a step back and remember the things around you, the places you can visit and the things you can do. Happiness isn’t just found in a physical item. It could be a meal out, a trip to the beach, a visit to a theme park, a couple of nights away in a hotel. Take some time to sit down, read a book or a magazine, have a cup of tea or coffee, maybe even take a nap!

Do you need ‘stuff’ to make you happy? No. In my opinion you don’t need it. It can help, and I find joy in treating myself every now and then. But I think the key to happiness is self care, and spending time doing and seeing rather than accumulating things. ‘Being happy’ is also a lot more than just a smile on your face. It’s also about your mental wellbeing and it’s so important to spend time every now and then making sure you’re okay. And if you think you’re not okay - seek help. Speak to a friend or even book an appointment to see your GP. It’s ok to not be ok!