Have you ever bought something that really made you happy?  Something that you used or played with all the time?  But then a month or two later, it no longer made you happy?  Maybe you still use it frequently, or maybe it just sits on a shelf, collecting dust.  Either way, the happiness fades.

There’s a reason for this feeling.  According to Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation.  We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed.  But only for a while.  New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”  Psychologists have a name for this phenomenon; it’s called “hedonic adaptation.”  We get used to what we have.

It’s easy to see that buying stuff makes us happy, but only for a short while.  To get that feeling back, we go out and buy more stuff.  It feels great to leave the store or the mall with a cute little shopping bag in your hand.  Or a couple of bags!  But it leads to a never-ending cycle of buy, buy, buy!

So, before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re both on the same page.  What do I mean by “stuff”?  Stuff is material possessions.  It could be anything from clothes, toys, books, furniture and even your house.

So, why does this happiness go away?  Here are a few reasons why buying stuff doesn’t make you happy.

Reason #1: Happiness Fades

The new thing that we just bought is no longer new and the novelty wears off.  You get used to what you have.  And you get used to it quicker than you would expect.  A bigger house?  Well, that’s the new normal now.

Reason #2: It’s Never Enough

Since the happiness of buying stuff wears off, it fuels the need to buy more.  It becomes a never-ending cycle of buy -> happiness boost -> happiness declines -> repeat.  Trying to recreate this happiness boost can become addictive.  No matter how much you buy, it’s never enough.

Reason #3: Clutter Increases Stress

Think about it.  The more you buy, the more stuff will be in your house.  Soon, there’s no more room in the closet or on the shelf.  Everything begins to accumulate in piles around you.  Your stuff has now become clutter.  Your house becomes disorganized, which increases your stress.

Reason #4: Everything’s Relative

Let’s say that you just upgraded a big piece of furniture, like your dining room table and chairs.  Then you look around at all your other possessions.  Suddenly, in comparison, everything else looks like crap.  Before the upgrade, you were perfectly happy with your possessions.  After the upgrade, your happiness actually declines because what was once satisfactory is no longer good enough. 

Reason #5: More Isn’t Always Better

The more you have, the harder it can be to enjoy what you do have.  Your attention becomes divided and unfocused.  It’s more difficult to enjoy the pleasure of small moments.  You are no longer grateful for what you have and your possessions lose their meaning.

Enough about the “dark side” of buying stuff.  Come back next week to read my blog post about how money CAN buy you happiness – in the right circumstances! 

Until my next blog post, here’s wishing you lots of joy and happiness!
With love,


Hi! I'm Joanne. I’m a Canadian Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CMA). Money management is a life skill that I passionately believe all people need to learn. As an accountant, I love helping people understand numbers and money. At BuildingJoyAndHappiness, I share my tips to money management and make understanding finances simple.

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