Senjuti Kundu

To have more joy: unlearn materialism

Innate joy is a radical act in a society that was founded upon the pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson envisioned a fair society where everyone had the chance to star in their own rags to riches story. Jefferson’s vision was imprinted in the Declaration of independence – that Americans shall have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This has led people into believing that accumulating stuff is the key to happiness.

One of the pitfalls of materialism for many people, myself included, is waste. I had accumulated a lot of clothes throughout the years and much of it is from fast fashion retailers. Fast fashion is cheaply made so pieces wear out quickly and the buyer purchases more to make up for the clothes that are too worn out. This creates a lot of environmental waste as the worn out and damaged clothes end up in landfills, not even in good enough condition to be donated.

Below are 6 steps on how to bring more joy into your life by understanding the illusory value of materialism. 


1) Understand the difference between happiness and joy

Buddhism teaches about the 5 immeasurable traits. Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. They are immeasurable because they do not run out. Therefore, they are unlike fleeting emotions. For people living in the harsh world of materialism, happiness is the ephemeral token of exchange. Joy, on the other hand, must be practiced each moment, each day. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes. However, joy – innate joy – is a crop you can cultivate without worrying if it’ll spoil.

2) Stop comparing yourself to others

Comparing ourselves to others often leads to us accumulating more stuff due to the principle of “keeping up with the Jones’.” When everyone else seems to have more and better things than you, your conditional happiness depletes. So, you buy more and more. By the time you’ve purchased the same stuff as the other person, the other person has bought better things. So, you buy more and more. Your levels of conditional happiness go up and down like a Ferris Wheel.

3) Tidy by category

Marie Kondo teaches that effective tidying is done when you tidy in the correct order. She lists that order as clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items, and then sentimental items. However, it is more effective to break these broad categories into more specific ones. For example, you could divide the clothes category into pants, shirts, one-pieces, undergarments, and shoes. 

Tidying by categories further broken down into sub-categories can help you feel less overwhelmed while you are tidying. It is easy to become overwhelmed and filled with worries when you start tidying up without a plan. Being present-minded while tidying helps you be open to your feelings towards your items.

4) Find what items spark joy

Marie Kondo also says items that spark joy will make all the cells of your body rise at once. As you hold something, bring it to your body and take a deep breath. How does it make you feel? The experience of sparking joy is deeply personal. Perhaps the item just makes you feel good, maybe it makes you recall positive memories. Getting present to what sparks joy in us will help us re-connect to ourselves in a more intimate way.

5) Discard without hesitation

For the items that you are discarding, thank them for their time. For things that you are keeping and serve a useful purpose, thank them for their work. Treating your items with care and respect can help you appreciate them better. It also guides you to tune into the present moment by appreciating them just as they are.

6) Practice gratitude

Now that you are finished tidying, what do you have left? Many people seem to think that gratitude means being grateful for the big things that you have: an exotic trip, a luxury car, designer bags, and so on. But no. Gratitude means being grateful for what you have independent of the monetary value. Practice gratitude by being thankful for everything that you have.

For me, practicing gratitude looks like taking time to reflect. I reflect on all the big and small things in my life. I am grateful for the $30 t-shirt I bought from my favorite band. I am equally grateful for the $4 pair of shorts I bought from the local thrift store. I also take plenty of time to be grateful for the non-material things in my life. I’m grateful for my friends who have always been there for me, for the companionship of my pet cat, for my parents’ love, and for so much more.

Abdulla M

7.) Keeping things novel by learning a new skill

Sonja Lyubomirsky, from the University of California, has highlighted how happiness from wealth is short lived. This is due to hedonic adaptation, which is the process in which people’s feelings return to a stable baseline after experiencing a positive or negative event. Lyubomirksy suggests “keeping things novel” to combat hedonic adaptation. One way to keep things novel is to learn new things.

As an antidote to fast fashion, for example, we can learn how to fix clothing. As previously stated, fast fashion often ends up in landfills since it is cheaply made and prone to breaking. For the clothes that have holes or tears, I patch them up. For the clothes that are still in good shape, but I am getting bored of, I like to modify them – like shirts into crop tops. I particularly enjoy modifying clothing since I can reuse the scrap pieces of fabric. I can use them as rags, make cat toys out of them, or practice new stitching techniques on them.

All in all, let the takeaway be that cultivating joy is one of the most rewarding activities in life. The happiness from owning and buying more stuff is temporary in nature than the innate joy that you can learn to cultivate. Practicing gratitude, learning to let go of comparisons, and keeping things novel are 3 strategies to cultivate more joy that are simple and accessible to all.

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