We’ve been in the throes of spring cleaning for two weeks now, and a big part of what we do is purge our spaces of unwanted or unused things. When I ask my kids to gather donatables, the same three things always surprise me: first, how much STUFF our little family is able to accumulate between said purges; second, the easy generosity of my children; and third (this, worst of all) my own attachment to THEIR stuff — to say nothing of my own.
“Are you sure you want to give that up?” I hear myself saying. “You LOVE that.” Or “But I just bought that for you. Let’s keep it just a little bit longer.” In those moments I am prompted to course correct, because I can see their little minds reprogramming to match that unhealthy tendency for material attachments I am so committed to releasing in myself. In fact, between that, the admitted high I get from “retail therapy,” and the number of practically new items that pass through our home and straight into the donation box, I recognize an opportunity to optimize life for everyone concerned.
Psychologists call my first world problem the hedonic treadmill, and it describes the human tendency to return quickly to a level “happiness set point” despite positive (or negative) life events. Those running on the hedonic treadmill might seek quick hits of happiness through extrinsic sources like: the acquisition of money, increased status, or more material stuff. But positive psychology suggests that the pursuit of extrinsic goals actually stands as an obstacle to lasting happiness, as we adapt by increasing our desires and expectations over time. In short, the more worldly goals we go after and attain in the name of happiness, the more we want. The euphoria never lasts long, and as we emotionally adjust to having the new car, the great promotion or the increased salary, we find ourselves seeking for the next “high.”
So, this spring, in addition to moving the clutter out, we are making a new commitment to invest less in more incoming stuff and invest more in the intrinsic experiences that bring the lasting happiness we all seek as humans: contribution, relationships, education, and experiences.
The truth is, no matter how painful the process for their Momma, a healthy detachment from things is something I want to preserve in my kids and cultivate more of in myself. And so, I slowly back away from the box of giveaways, lips buttoned shut, and allow them to teach me the lesson I need to learn…that, despite cultural suggestions to the contrary, stuff is not what matters in this life. We came for so much more.
As you bless other families with your own stuff, do you see ways in which to jump off the hedonic treadmill in your own life this spring? What intrinsic goals can you write down for you and your family that will demonstrate a higher value in experiences over things?
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