Satisfying wants and desires is the American way. Watch a typical television show and your mind will be under assault from marketers and the sexy, stylish, quirky characters that live out our fantasies on the screen. We are programmed from very early on to want the things we see on TV and to covet the material gains of our friends and neighbors.
We value the relentless pursuit of the material world and think that it will bring us happiness. Yet the joy found in material things has a rapid half-life and has shown that we are often very poor at predicting how happy our purchases will make us in the future.
I often recall a phrase that my great Aunt Margaret said about our rich and somewhat snobbish cousins who drove nicer cars and wore finer clothes, “They may love their diamonds and pearls but those things do not love them back.”
When you think about it, we chase after material wealth not only to possess flashy things but to gain the status that might bring increased attention from others. But as happiness researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, “we derive our greatest happiness from our interactions and relationships with others.”
Think about your happiest moments. How many of them occurred when you were alone?
Conversely, the strictest form of punishment when in prison is solitary confinement.
To illustrate this point at a deeper level, recent describes the distinction between behavior done purely for immediate pleasure and behavior that leads to longer lasting satisfaction. Hedonism describes behaviors like getting drunk, gluttony and conspicuous consumption as our tendency to seek instant gratification, the quick hit of pleasure.
In contrast, behaviors such as volunteering, expressing gratitude, giving to charity and listening carefully to others to gain understanding have been found to be more satisfying. Aristotle originally coined the term eudaimonia, which refers to a life lived to its fullest potential. Today happiness researchers refer to eudamonic behaviors as pleasurable but because they are meaningful and often relational they tend to lead to enduring happiness.
This distinction relates to what describe as self –image goals and compassionates goals. Jennifer Crocker and Amy Canevello have found that in terms of relationships, individuals tend to have goals that emphasize either compassion (to be supportive and helpful to others) or self-image (get others to acknowledge your positive qualities, convince others you are right and avoid making mistakes). Their research finds that those with stronger compassionate goals create more supportive social networks and developed greater amounts of interpersonal trust.
Those who are preoccupied with self-image goals tend to undermine the positive effects of social support and trust. Focusing too often on one's own needs and engaging in support only when expecting something in return creates a “me-first” dynamic that might weaken the trust in a relationship.
If we truly want to be happy, it is clear that the best place to start is by supporting and caring for our close relationships. When we forgive rather than blame, accommodate rather than demand.
Finally, has demonstrated that spending money on others instead of oneself leads to greater happiness.
So you can choose to invest in those $600.00 shoes thinking that they will make you stand out at a party but when you choose to invest in the hopes and dreams of a close partner you may find it leads to longer lasting joy.