For the first time in quite a while, I was watching a live program on television, meaning I couldn’t just skip the commercial breaks if I so chose. As I sat there watching the advertisements, I began to realize something interesting.
Almost all of them painted a picture of some sort of idealized lifestyle.
I watched a minivan commercial that laid out some sort of idealized version of parenting.
I watched a body spray (I think that’s what the product was) commercial that laid out some sort of early twentysomething clubbing fantasy.
I watched a travel commercial that seemed to lay out some sort of “girls out on the town” dream.
There were similar beverage commercials and other product commercials that did exactly the same thing: they simply painted a quick sketch of some sort of “better than reality” version of someone’s lifestyle or significant aspect of their lifestyle.
Sure, some people might jump on these commercials and immediately rush out to buy the product, but I don’t think that’s the real problem with them. Most people have enough sense to realize that these are just marketing pitches.
The problem comes from the sheer repetition of them and the image they spell out of an unattainable lifestyle.
The parenting-themed ads have seemingly well-rested parents, cute and well-maintained children, and an affluent lifestyle. I haven’t been that well-rested since 2005.
The young adult ads show highly attractive people in a club scene. The last few times I was at a club, it was probably a good thing that it was so dark.
The last time I had a “boy’s night out,” we wound up sitting around a table playing cards and shooting the breeze. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside of a limousine.
Here’s the thing, though. I don’t really care about these lifestyles. For the last few years, I’ve been genuinely happy with my own life.
Several years ago, I wasn’t that happy with my life. Unsurprisingly, it also coincided with a period where I spent far too much money on things.
In the end, I spent those years aspiring to some sort of different lifestyle. I knew that where I was at now didn’t make me happy, so I spent a lot of time and money seeking something that would bring me more happiness.
Lo and behold, these advertisements are serving that desire on a silver platter!
In fact, it’s not even so much the products that are being sold in these specific ads that convinces people to buy more than they should. It’s the notion that, yes, your particular lifestyle can be better than it is now.
When you have that notion in your head – that your current lifestyle isn’t good enough in some way – one of the easiest ways to attempt to fix it is to buy more stuff.
Think about this whole picture for a second and you come around to some interesting truths.
First, if you’re unhappy with your life, buying stuff won’t change that. Replacing the stuff around you with “better” versions of the same stuff doesn’t change your life (outside of a short term thrill). It just continues the same old life.
Instead, if you’re unhappy with your life, only a change in what you do can really fix it. This may involve changing your circle of friends. It may involve how you spend an ordinary day. It may involve switching jobs. It may involve radical changes of your spending habits. It may involve a visit with your doctor. Buying more stuff won’t be the fix.
For me, I realized at some point that most of my actions were simply causing short bursts of happiness that quickly gave way to an unhappy life underneath. Buying something new caused a burst of happiness that vanished quickly, as did many of my social activities. It wasn’t until I started focusing on why I was unhappy underneath (and a lot of that had to do with a sense that I was somehow inadequate) that I started turning that ship around. I spent far less money and felt far more happy – and I still do.