In the end, accumulation and minimalism are short-term solutions to the problem of happiness. But they don’t last. Only eternal happiness lasts, and only God can provide eternal joy through faith in Jesus Christ. Cast your burdens on him and give up putting your hope in the temporary; put your hope in what lasts forever, and that forever thing is God.
We live in an age of affluence and relative wealth. Compared to our ancestors from 100 or 200 years ago, most of us enjoy much better lives than they did then. One of the effects of our affluence is that we accumulate many things to satisfy our desires.
Need a new table? Ikea. Need a new gadget? Apple store. Need some tool for the yard? Home Depot. Want something to add to your room’s design? Kijiji (or Craigslist). It’s easy to get stuff. And often this stuff only costs a few dollars. We live in an era where stuff is cheap and everywhere.
So how did we get to this point and how does this accumulation effect us? And if accumulation harms us, does minimalism (a lifestyle of living on little) provide a way to safety or to happiness? Here is my answer.
We accumulate. In the twenty-first century, gaining new stuff is what it means to be human. The fashion industry entices consumers to purchase clothing based on the season. And clothing from a prior year may not match the fashion or preferred colour of the current year. We accumulate the newest gadget to fix a daily problem. Can’t access your phone from your watch? Buy an iWatch. The new thing is supposed to make life easier, more enjoyable.
And accumulation brings joy. Or at least the feeling of joy. Emotions are constructed, based on predictions and experience. Americans, for example, tend to be more positive than their European counterparts not because Americans have more cause for joy per se but because Americans have learned the emotional behaviour of positivity, of joy.
So also does accumulation bring a sort of happiness, not one that is objectively true but a happiness that we’ve constructed. When put like this, the joy we attain through buying the new gadget or item of clothing seems cheap, false. It’s a constructed happiness.
When money runs dry or the weight of too much stuff oppresses, such a constructed joy based on accumulating loses its glitter. It becomes dross. And if we have built our psychological well-being around purchasing stuff, then we lose our happiness when we can no longer get stuff or the stuff loses its joy-making function because it becomes mundane. We have no other input for happiness.
Like the mannequins that wore the clothes that we once valued, we have become shells. Empty inside and with only a constructed happiness outside. Put simply, if you put your hope in things to make you happy, then you will be disappointed.
Does minimalism then open the door to true happiness? If joy in things has no future, what about joy in no things? Minimalism describes a movement that advocates living on less to overcome the weight of things and their various pressures. Here is how the minimalists describe it: