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Why possessions hamper meaning

Mar 30, 2022 | Insights

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Accumulating possessions, chasing experiences, the pursuit of pleasure, are temporary proxies for happiness and hamper our quest for meaning
A couple of weeks ago, like so many, we responded to a call for clothes, blankets and other essentials for the refugees from Ukraine. So we scoured wardrobes and drawers, even the attic, and found many good quality possessions we took to the local collection point.

We kept asking ourselves why we kept so much ‘stuff’ during our rummaging, much of which hadn’t been worn or used for years.

One answer, of course, is that it is readily available when needed at the next crisis. But, we shopped for consumables such as baby milk and sanitary towels, which we were asked to provide. We could as easily have gone to the shops and brought the clothes asked for.

Why did we buy this?

Reflecting on this later, I wondered if “Why have we kept this?” was the wrong question. Instead, we should have been asking ourselves, “Why did we buy this in the first place?”

One answer, of course, is that we needed it. This was true of some items that we came across in our search. For instance, I bought a pumice stone when I left home nearly fifty years ago, which I still use. And my favourite mug is at least twenty years old and still used every day, even if a little chipped. I love them, use them and they give me comfort.

However, for non-essential items, the answer to why we bought these items lies in the pursuit of happiness. Latterly, this has morphed into the pursuit of pleasure, chasing goods and goals to satisfy our immediate desires. We are the instant gratification society.

Possessions hamper our quest for meaning

So does instant gratification bring happiness? Based on the evidence of the little used clothes and stuff we found, the answer is no. And that is because sustainable happiness does not come from the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure. Long term, true happiness comes from grounded integrity, kept values and personal accomplishment.Or, to put it another way, living a life of meaning.

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