• lynneeveratt

Why do we own so much stuff?

“Your house is a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!” - George Carlin Did you know that in the United States there are roughly 50,000 storage facilities—more than the total number of Starbucks or McDonald’s? Why do we own so much stuff that we need to rent extra space to store more stuff? According to psychologist Bruce Hood, author of Possessed: Why we want more than we need, our possessions give us a feeling of control and status that become markers of our identity. Disposing of an item can feel painful, as if you're throwing a piece of yourself away, as I discovered in the years I tried to get my husband to replace his dilapidated moccasins…



Simply acquiring an item, even temporarily, can make it meld with your identity and feel more valuable to you, a phenomenon known as “the endowment effect.” Test driving a car uses the endowment effect to marketing advantage. Once you take a seat behind the wheel of a new car, what once may have seemed sterile and remote on the showroom floor suddenly feels like a possible new form of self-expression. The endowment effect isn’t always as harmless as a test drive. In 1859, the ship Royal Charter, returning from the gold fields of Australia, sank off the coast of Wales. Many men drowned because they refused to relinquish the gold that was sewn into their clothing. Their possessions weighed them down with deadly consequences. Today, there are people drowning in debt, drawn to the status of luxurious purchases they can’t afford. We give inanimate objects the magical power to make us feel like we have an advantage over others, even though deep down we know it’s irrational to associate increased self-worth with a luxury brand. Bloomberg reports that 2021 is turning into the ultimate moment of “revenge spending” against the pandemic. Lamborghinis are sold out for the year, but Covid isn't dazzled by a $574,000 Aventador SVJ Roadster. It prefers to travel in the stealth obscurity of a Yugo. Possessions can carry a variety of associations other than status and luxury. Telling someone that their golf club was previously owned by a golf champ can make them play better. And at the infamous end of the ownership spectrum, imagine being told that the jacket you're in line to purchase at a vintage clothing store was once owned by a mass murderer. Would you still purchase it? How about putting a price tag on a wedding ring that once belonged to a divorced couple versus a happily married couple? In a scientific study recounted on a recent episode of the excellent podcast Hidden Brain, the divorce ring was valued at $550 versus the identical ring associated with marital longevity that was valued at $780. On a recent episode of Ten Percent Happier podcast, Shankar Vendantam, host of Hidden Brain and author of the insightful new book Useful Delusions: The power and paradox of the self-deceiving brain, explores why we deceive ourselves into acquiring more and more, and what we can do about it. The first step, according to Vendantam, is asking yourself what is driving the desire for more. The second step is asking yourself if the desire for more is leading you astray. Not all possessions drag you down. Often possessions perform a useful function, save time, make you a better person in some way, or carry the positive association of a valued relationship, an accomplishment, or a treasured memory from the past. Seeing delusion clearly is the best way to step away from the mindless desire for more things that separates us from each other with peacock-like displays of status. As author and peak performance researcher Steven Kotler stresses in a recent episode of the Feel Better Live More podcast, enduring satisfaction doesn't come from the revengeful acquisition of stuff, but from a sense of gratitude for what you have and a “high-flow lifestyle” in which the things that you produce when you lose yourself in a challenging activity make the world a better place for others. The secret, backed up by science, is that we should value people over possessions. “You can summarize thirty years of positive psychology in a single phrase which is OTHER PEOPLE MATTER. - Chris Peterson So go out and buy stuff for other people so that they can put it in a storage facility. ;) Somewhat delusion-free reading:

  • The Lie We Tell Ourselves About Going to Bed Early The Atlantic

  • Doctor Subjects Himself To An 80 Percent Ultra-Processed Food Diet For 30 Days And Sees What It Does To His Body Digg/The BBC

  • The Circles of Friendship Kottke.org

  • Just don’t do it: 10 exercise myths The Guardian

  • Chapter 80: Kristin Neff on allowing, accepting, and applying anger artfully 3 Books podcast

May you be possessed by joy, Lynne

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