Your Craving for Material Goods Is an Attempt to Fill a Void

Auriane Alix
It’s like chewing gum when you’re hungry.
Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash

There is a Porsche in the parking lot of the hotel where I am staying. I was eating an apple while looking out the window, and I saw it. I observed its dynamic line, its neat details. It certainly is a beautiful object.

Then another thought came into my mind, which spoke louder than my observation. Here it is.

I don’t understand why anyone would want to own such a car.

Why would one want to deprive oneself to be able to finance such a purchase? When it is only a car. That is to say, an object meeting a need. Which need could be satisfied in the same way with another car, much less expensive. So why use your money to buy this one, when you could buy a less expensive one and use your spare money to do meaningful things, such as buying life experiences?

In recent years, I have become less and less materialistic. And I haven’t even tried. What has happened is that I have understood one essential thing: our desire for material goods is an attempt to fill the emptiness we feel deep down inside.

Except that it’s like satisfying your hunger with chewing gum.

You feel empty, don’t you?

“The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.” Elise Boulding

I do feel empty too, sometimes. To “solve” this, I used to seek temporary solutions. The human being is not comfortable with unpleasant feelings. Its first reaction is to run away from them, thinking that by doing so, it is solving them.

To escape this feeling, we indulge in food, we take a nap, we seek company… Or we decide that if we had this or that object, our whole life would simply be better. We fill the void in the easiest way: with materials. Because filling the void with the impalpable requires a lot more work.

As a result, I ended up with a closet full of clothes and shoes, and many things that I don’t even use. Acquiring material goods doesn’t work to fill the void. It just digs it out even more. It’s easy. But useless. Even counterproductive.

What you need is to go back to simplicity

“Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.” Linda Breen Pierce

Simplicity seems to be the remedy for many things, if not all. Because at the end of the day, we don’t need much. Just enough food in our stomachs. Clothes on our skin. Shoes on our feet. A few books and maybe a laptop to work with. That’s all we need. And even, we’ve gone beyond need in this enumeration.

Every object you own must serve a purpose. And you don’t need three different colored items to serve one single purpose. One is enough.

Why would you need a luxury car? To impress others? To have more comfort? To be satisfied when you look out the window and see it in the parking lot?

The truth is that it doesn’t add anything to your life. It is a substitute. An attempt to fill the void. Except that by doing so, you are actually deepening that void, because you are moving away from simplicity.

Use your money to fund your life experience instead

You can’t have it all. Unless you’re very rich, in which case I understand why you buy a Porsche. But if you don’t, you have to choose your expenditure items. 1, 2, or 3, but probably no more. For example, mine are travel, food, and books. I don’t care about most things outside of that, because these three things bring me a lot of joy. I hardly buy clothes anymore, just when I need new ones. I only change the rest of my possessions when it is absolutely necessary.

If you pay attention to these three elements, they are more related to moments, to life experiences, than to material goods. None of them are palpable, except food, but it disappears afterward. I don’t even collect books anymore because I bought a Kindle.

That means I spend my money on things I can’t keep. But these are things that I experience. Moments of life that turn into joy. Moments of life that turn into memories. Moments of life that turn into growth as a human being.

I finance my life, in the simplest sense of the word. I don’t finance any material desire, which I no longer have. I fund my time. I use my money to fill it with experiences, rather than possessions. And that makes all the difference.

“One of the advantages of being born in an affluent society is that if one has any intelligence at all, one will realize that having more and more won’t solve the problem, and happiness does not lie in possessions, or even relationships: The answer lies within ourselves. If we can’t find peace and happiness there, it’s not going to come from the outside.” — Tenzin Palmo

Final thoughts

Sometimes, the void is still there. But most of the time it’s not. And one thing’s for sure: financing my life’s moments gives them more meaning and value than owning another piece of plastic.

For me, that’s true simplicity. Having the minimum, satisfying one’s needs, and using the rest to actually live. That is to say: to experience life.

Happiness is not outside of you. It is inside. “Awareness” by Anthony de Mello is an excellent book to learn more about this. It explains that human beings are happy by default. We are unhappy because we keep adding to our lives, when in fact the more we add, the further away we get from happiness. Life is very simple. The following quote is an excerpt from this book.

“Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture. To acquire happiness you don’t have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don’t you experience it? Because you’ve got to drop something. You’ve got to drop illusions. You don’t have to add anything in order to be happy; you’ve got to drop something. Life is easy, life is delightful. It’s only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings. Do you know where these things come from? From having identified with all kinds of labels!”

You don’t need another car. You don’t need the latest iPhone or MacBook. You don’t need 6 different black pants. The high you’ll get when you get home with these items will last a few hours, a few days at most, and then poof, you find yourself craving something else. It’s an endless loop. And you don’t learn from it. You keep getting stronger and stronger cravings, thinking that this time, finally, it will be enough.

Free yourself from that. What you need is to get out and live. To feel things. To live things. To discover things. You need real food for your mind and soul. Not another substitute.

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