You are inadequate. At least that’s what advertisers would like you to believe.
You bear witness to proof of your inadequacy every day: you see it on your TV, hear it on your radio, stare back at it on your computer screen and on highway billboards. There are plenty of messages all around you to reinforce your utter inadequacy.
If you’re a male, you’re not a real man unless you drink this brand of beer and eat this particular cut of meat and drive this brand of sport utility vehicle.
And if you’re a female, you’re not a real woman unless you squeeze into this size dress and don this shiny piece of jewelry and tote this purse with all the ostentatious C’s or LV’s on its leather exterior.
Then, and only then, will you feel adequate—or so they’d have you believe.
But when you obtain these things, what happens? Do you feel long-term adequacy? No, of course not. Your thirst for over-indulgent consumption isn’t quenched when you obtain more material possessions—it’s just the opposite: your desire to consume increases; you’ve set the bar higher, and thus the threshold for future satisfaction is higher. It’s a vicious cycle.
Consumption is an unquenchable thirst. You create that thirst, you manufacture the desire to consume more. Advertisers play their role, they help activate the desire you create, but ultimately the desire is yours to control. Once you realize you have control, you can break the cycle—you can avoid the continuous downward spiral.
There is one way out of consumption’s spiral: we must realize the things we purchase do not define who we are—unless we allow them to.
If we are defined by our things, we will never be happy—but if we are defined by our actions, then we’ll have the opportunity to feel fulfilled by our everyday growth, we’ll have the opportunity to feel satisfied with our everyday contribution to others, and we’ll have the opportunity to be content every day of our lives.
The stuff doesn’t make you happy—you make you happy.
Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.