“Not to value and employ men of superior ability is the way to keep the people from rivalry among themselves;
not to prize articles which are difficult to procure is the way to keep them from becoming thieves;
not to show them what is likely to excite their desires is the way to keep their minds from disorder.”
– Tao Te Ching
We live in a society where we are always yearning for something that we don’t have. In social psychology and economics, this is known as the symptom of scarcity. We place too much value on things that are scarce and too much value on things that are in abundance.
This is highly evident in many developed countries. Somewhere back in 1999, strings of people around Singapore started to queue up for “limited” editions of Hello Kitty stuffed toys from MacDonald’s. They went through the lengths of camping out at night to get their hands on these toys. Some even made headlines when they were caught fighting over the who’s next in queue.
10 years later, in 2009, the great Hello Kitty giveaway started again. This time round, a shrewd online hustler offered to sell a rare specimen of the toy for more than $1,000. It was sold instantly!
Have you ever wonder what do they do with these stuffed creatures when they bring them home? What is the return on investing their hours of queuing, their dignity when squabbling over who’s next in line and their money purchasing lots of unhealthy food? Chances are, these stuffed animals will be placed somewhere in their homes as part of a display. Soon enough, no one would even realized the existence of these sadly abandoned stuffed animals.
We humans have been successfully programmed to purchase items we do not exactly need. The advertisements and our social media feeds have done a fantastic job in selling us the romanticism of being the privileged owner of their products. We were sold through emotions, not logic. We want to let the whole world know we have the latest outfits and gadgets, attended the hottest parties in town and dined at the most expensive restaurant, so we can feel admired and loved. By the time logic caught up to us, we realized how unwise we are. Yet, many of us continue camp through the night for the next greatest buy. *cough* iPhone 6; *cough” H&M Balmain opening.
Ironically, many people in the developed world are complaining about the rising cost of living. We wonder why there’s never enough for our rents, our daily utilities, etc. We go around asking for discounts from the people who did our brand logo or the IT guy who debugged our computer. Finally, we end up blaming the policy makers for making our lives tougher than it already is.
We have ignored what is really important in favor of what makes us feel good. Thankfully, there are many amazing sites out there which offers a list of cheaper alternatives to our constant impulsive purchases. Personally, I have an alternative solution to save money.
“I’m not advocating poverty. I am advocating sobriety” – Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay
When wants-based purchase earns a spot in our list of addictive behaviours, buying becomes as necessary as eating. Understand that it is our reptilian brain, or our lower consciousness at work. It is the reactive brain. When shrewd and pushy sales people warns us about the “dangers” of not purchasing, our fear kicks in and we make our purchase almost immediately. Don’t get me wrong though. A reptilian brain is useful during a flight or fight situation, such as in the case of an armed madman running towards us.
Yet for us to thrive in this society, we need to operate from a different mental perspective. Our neocortex, or our thinking brain governs our ability to make rational judgement and decisions from a grander perspective. Hence, this is the brain that must work when we make wants-based purchases. However, we have not used it as much as we could have.
So, Mr. Wiseguy. How do we do that?
To release our need to purchase impulsively, we need to detach ourselves from such influences. For me, I like to take an hour of “unwired time”, where I leave my phone in my house and head out for a stroll. Having that quiet moment helps me to get in touch with my true self – the self that is unpolluted by the influenced of the wired world. By getting in touch with my true self, I am one step closer to find out what is important to me and what is not.
Next, I would also recommend meditation. According to psychologist and author of The Willpower Instict, Kelly McGonigal, meditation has the ability to increase the amount of gray matter in our prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that governs our willpower and our ability to make rational decisions. Hence, we have an easier time to withstand the huge influx of distractions from advertisements.
Finally, set aside at least 5 minutes a day to go through what you are thankful for. You will actually surprise yourself by realizing that you have already achieved so much. Hence, wanting new and unnecessary stuff will no longer seem as important. You will discover that there are still people who will love and appreciate you for who you are. You will also start to accept yourself more, despite the lack of certain things in your life.
Remember that you are better than you think! Most products that you buy will eventually fade and depreciate sooner than you think. You, on the other hand, have the rest of your life to live. Start thinking about what you can offer to society if you wish to be deemed valuable in the eyes of others.