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The Minimalists
The Minimalists are Emmy-nominated Netflix stars and New York Times–bestselling authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Alongside their podcast cohost, T.K. Coleman, this simple-living trio helps millions of people eliminate clutter and live meaningfully with less. Learn More.

Minimalism & Happiness Through Scientific Eyes

Minimalism and Happiness: Is there evidence of a connection? Can money and materialism bring happiness? Can minimalism bring happiness?

P. Brickman in the 70s conducted a study in which he investigated the level of happiness of people whose financial dreams had come true. He found that those who had won millions on the lottery were no happier than his control group who meet their basic needs. Money can buy short term happiness but you will eventually turn to your level of happiness before financial gain. This puts you in a vicious materialistic circle in which you strive to achieve long term happiness through the constant purchase of material items. Not healthy.

How can you beat this vicious cycle? First you must understand the roots of materialism. According to a study from Chaplin & John (2007) there is a strong link between low self-esteem and materialism (usually derived early in childhood) and that low self-esteem causes materialistic tendencies. But it’s not just about buying material goods for yourself. A study from Dunn et al. (2008) showed that it’s how we spend the money that can determine how happy we feel. They go on to say:

While much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

Okay, so what the hell does this have to do with minimalism? Well, to quote Colin Wright:

What Minimalism is really all about is reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff—the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities—that don’t bring value to your life.

With this stripping away you find yourself doing more with less. You find you no longer waste money on crap and potentially you can use this extra money or your extra time from stripping away draining relationships into more experiences. Boredom & comfort are the enemy. So is there any actual evidence for this or is this just another bullshit blog post just chatting random shit? Yes, there is evidence. Van Boven & Gilovich (2003) conducted a national survey asking people to rate according to how happy their purchase had been (one group had brought a product, the other an experience). The results clearly showed that the group who had described and rated the purchase of an experience had higher levels of mood.

Do experiences make people happier than material possessions? In two surveys, respondents from various demographic groups indicated that experiential purchases—those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience—made them happier than material purchases. In a follow-up laboratory experiment, participants experienced more positive feelings after pondering an experiential purchase than after pondering a material purchase. In another experiment, participants were more likely to anticipate that experiences would make them happier than material possessions after adopting a temporally distant, versus a temporally proximate, perspective. The discussion focuses on evidence that experiences make people happier because they are more open to positive reinterpretations, are a more meaningful part of one’s identity, and contribute more to successful social relationships.

So the evidence points towards a strong link between happiness and social relationships. This comes of no surprise considering our evolution. During our evolution we stayed in social groups, R. Dunbar suggests that this group living could have been one of the causes of the evolution of language, something that made us excel as a species. We need other people, this is what experiences give us, the opportunity to share experiences with other people while the purchase of material items can isolate you from others. What about the roles of neurotransmitters into experiences? Well, when we have new experiences we often have excitement as we have never done it before. Once we undergo excitement the brain releases endorphins which are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters. This chemical is well known for the well being state it creates in humans. Excitement caused by new experiences releases endorphins and creates a state of happiness which can be increased with minimalism by stripping away the fat and letting new worthwhile experiences in.

So, does minimalism create happiness? Does it improve your life? I never said that. Minimalism is subjective for a lot of people and it would be foolish to try and pinpoint something as broad and vast as happiness into one cause. Rather, minimalism is a tool. What minimalism can do though is strip away the fat and leave you with a new found financial freedom that you can use for new experiences. Experiences that you can share and enjoy with other people.

Visit The Ephemeral Project for more insights from Lee Hughes.