If I ask you what you remember most about your childhood, it will not be things, it will be experiences. It wasn’t the bike you got as a gift that you remember, it was riding that bike through the neighborhood with your best friend. It wasn’t the hotel you stayed at in Florida that’s burned into your memory, it was swimming in the ocean with your family. And it wasn’t money you made that you remember, but it’s the impact you were able to make with that money that you’ll never forget.
In this day and age, there is a lot of emphasis, attention, and value on things. We have become very materialistic. Not sure if you agree? Think of how many things you’ve ordered from Amazon this past year. Heck, this past week! And think of that little burst of joy you get, that shot of dopamine, when you see a brown box sitting on your front porch when you get home. We love stuff!
I do love stuff. I think it’s okay to love stuff. And I think some stuff is essential. But it’s important to remember that it’s not the stuff that matters. It’s what the stuff allows us to do, to create, or experience that matters. As we muddle through life, we acquire a lot of stuff. All of those things end up wearing out, getting lost, being given away, or getting thrown out. There is a finite lifespan to their use or ownership.
What does not wear out, get lost, or thrown out are experiences. These memories are what lives are built on. These memories are what we carry with us forever. These memories define the life we’ve lived. Going, doing, and seeing is, what I believe, defines a life well lived.
You don’t have to look far to see that stuff doesn’t buy happiness. Some of the wealthiest people on the planet, those with the biggest, fanciest, and most expensive stuff, are some of the most miserable people on the planet.
I once heard someone say that getting attached to material things is like chewing bubble gum. You get a quick burst of flavor that is brief, followed by bland chewing. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain and is often referred to as the “feel-good chemical.” We long for these short, quick bursts we get in our brains, but they are short-lived. And they are often followed by the need for more. Companies know this, and millions of dollars are spent exploiting this. Our cell phones are the perfect delivery system. When we get a text, or watch a TikTok or Instagram video, we get that hit of dopamine that lights us up. Even the ding we hear from the phone, alerting us that we did get a text or an email triggers the response. We are wired to stimulate more dopamine.
I understand how the mind works in regards to pleasure. I also know there’s a slippery slope there. I think it’s okay to like things, seek pleasure, and enjoy the little dopamine bursts. But I also constantly remind myself that it’s not the things that make us happiest, it’s the experiences we have.
Buy the boat, but buy it because of the experiences it will give you. Buy the RV, but buy it knowing it will bring your family closer together. Order the stuff on Amazon, but try to buy the stuff that helps free up your time so you can go, do, and see more.
Our fight against material goods is futile. You can drive yourself crazy and overwhelm yourself with guilt, but just offset that built-in desire to have more stuff with making sure you’re also doing the stuff that creates the most powerful and lasting memories with the people you love the most. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Have a good balance of both. Have the stuff, enjoy the stuff, but know that the stuff is just stuff. It’s the memories and experiences that matter most.