We live within a culture that promotes material success, individual achievement and a perceived ‘specialness’ as the highest values. It’s an idea that is promoted constantly through the media and advertising. It’s an idea that many of us gear our lives around.
But is it working? Is it actually making us happier?
And is getting stuff, and doing stuff, and standing out, our true definition of success?
Keep reading or hit play on the podcast below to hear the research on material success as a strategy for happiness, and how you can create your own definition of success.
Which pop star got it right?
In the 1980’s, Madonna released her hugely popular song, ‘Material Girl’. In the song, she sang about how we’re “living in a material world” and how cash, clothes, cars, nice possessions and status promised feelings of success and happiness.
It’s a promise that, despite many of us knowing deep down to be an hollow one, still wields enormous power over how we structure our lives and define success for ourselves.
In fact, research from psychology professor and researcher Tim Kasser shows that, over the last 30 years, more and more young people are buying into the idea of materialism as success.
But does material success really lead to a happy, ‘successful’ life? Should this be our definition of success?
Or, should we be listening to Paul McCartney when he sang, “I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love”?
What does the research say?
Tim Kasser’s research suggests the latter. For over two decades, he has researched how the pursuit of materialistic goals (money and status) over pro-social goals (family, values-based living and community) negatively impacts both individual and societal well-being.
In his book, ‘The High Price of Materialism’, Tim shows that materialistic values undermine our well-being. We tend to be less happy and are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and problems with intimacy – and this is regardless of age, income, or culture.
These values perpetuate feelings of insecurity, weaken the ties that connect us with others, and make us feel less free.
So, when we strive to acquire status, wealth and achievement in an attempt to gain happiness, we might be pushing it away.
Every day, we are bombarded with messages from the media promoting one idea of success, what they want us to prioritize and believe is important. So it’s more important than ever to get crystal clear on what happiness means to you.
What does success really mean to you?
My invitation to us all for this week is to take a step back and think deeply about what success really means to us. Not what anyone else tells us, but what we truly value deep in our hearts.
Perhaps your definition of success might be raising a loving family, looking after your health or living sustainably and simply. Perhaps it’s about making a meaningful contribution to the community or the world. Maybe your definition of success is to wake up each day and be grateful for all that you have. It might be to be a great parent, partner and friend or to make life one great adventure.
My own definition of success revolves around being kind.
Whatever success might look like to you, see if you can get clearer on that. And then start to move your actions and your way of life closer to that definition and see what effect that has on your state of mind and quality of life.
It’s ok to have nice things, achieve and strive.
It’s important to know there’s nothing wrong with having nice things or achieving goals that matter to you. There’s nothing wrong with living simply and humbly either. What’s important is that the goals and values we are focusing on are truly our own and genuinely lead us toward a more happy, fulfilling and meaningful life.
I wish you well with this practice. If you want to let me know how you go with it or have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line on social media.
I hope this was helpful.
Take care and stay strong.
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