A study looking at 150 of the richest Americans did not find them to be happier than those of average-income. A study comparing lottery winners with victims of car accidents found that both groups reverted to their baseline level of happiness within a year of experiencing the major life event – whether it was positive or negative.
These are mere examples from years of studies which consistently show that once basic needs are met, money can’t buy happiness. But, if money does not buy happiness, why do people act as if it does? Researcher have suggested a number of reasons as to why people desire more money/goods. Most likely because people are overly attracted to near-term rewards, and because people overestimate how much a change in their circumstances will affect their long-term level of happiness. Besides, people use consumption to manage their identity and social relationships. These data form the scientific base for a concept called minimalism.
What Minimalism Is
Minimalism combines a general and a personal advice to improve personal well-being, based on the above research. The general advice being to not place too much value on possessions for happiness. At the individual level, minimalism suggests to focus on the essential, that what is more important for your long-lasting personal well-being. Following minimalism will then allow you to live with just those items that serve a purpose or bring joy for a longer period.
A Quick Start
Although minimalism definitely is not just about possessions, it’s generally a good start. Have a look around your house and identity items that you haven’t used in a long time. If the only reason to keep these items is anything like the reasons below, you should – from a minimalist perspective – get rid of them (donate, sell, throw away).
“it was expensive”
“it was a gift”
“I haven’t used/worn it yet/much”
“maybe I want to use/fit in it again”
“my friends/family complimented me on it”
Ahuvia, A. If money doesn’t make us happy, why do we act as if it does? J. Econ. Psychol. 29, 491–507 (2008)
Carter, T. J. & Gilovich, T. The Relative Relativity of Material and Experiential Purchases. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. (2010). doi:10.1037/a0017145
Chemali, Z. N., Chahine, L. M. & Naassan, G. On Happiness: A Minimalist Perspective on a Complex Neural Circuitry and its Psychosocial Constructs. J. Happiness Stud. 9, 489–501 (2008)
Dittmar, H., Bond, R., Hurst, M. & Kasser, T. The relationship between materialism and personal well-being: A meta-analysis. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 107, 879–924 (2014)
Millburn, J. F. & Nicodemus, R. MINIMALISM. (Asymmetrical Press, 2011)
The Cambridge handbook of psychology and economic behaviour. (Cambridge University Press, 2008). doi:10.5860/choice.46-3353