Perhaps one of the greatest turning points in capitalist history was when advertisers realized they’d have more success selling us a feeling than a product. That’s why Axe shows scantily-clad women running after average-looking guys. It’s why Pampers shows a cooing baby crawling happily across a floor. It’s why Pepsi ads are full of people dancing on the beach.
And we buy into it – that’s why the term “retail therapy” exists.
It’s why we think we’ll be happier when we finally get our house decorated the way we want, or buy a nicer car, or upgrade our laptop. It’s the misguided idea that better stuff equals a better life.
Of course, we all know this isn’t true in retrospect. That American Girl doll I just had to have in third grade didn’t make my life any better (although it was the impetus for learning to sew a bit, since there was no way I could afford a wardrobe of official clothes, so I suppose that was a benefit). We’ve all had this experience: maybe it was a North Face fleece, or Uggs, or that awesome Harry Potter Lego set.
These things are fun to buy, and fun to have for a little while, but eventually they live in the back of our closets, either outgrown or simply out of fashion. They didn’t bring lasting happiness.
Happiness is a little harder to achieve than wandering the aisles of Target (a “happy place” for many Millennial women, myself included). It comes from working hard on a project, learning new things, building solid relationships. And yet, our brains get a little shot of short-lived happiness when we buy things – starting us on a cycle of buying again and again to keep achieving that high.
Next time you find yourself itching for a trip down the red-dotted aisles, ask yourself why. If there’s something you really need to buy (like, laundry detergent or command hooks), get in and get out. If you’re bored and looking for fulfillment, you won’t find it there. Go to the library instead.