That new pay raise may feel great for a few weeks or even months, but at some point, it will become the “new normal” and won’t feel special anymore.
The new car you bought is exciting for a little while, but then it too becomes the “new normal.” And so you’ll need higher and higher levels of achievement to procure that same thrill and satisfaction.
It’s called the “hedonic treadmill”—and the way to get off it is not to give into the temptations to consume more, buy more, have more.
The way off the treadmill is in the other direction: to change your life into one of meaning and purpose so you can recognize materialism as the useless prop it is.
The United States is a consumer society; economic growth is achieved by ever higher production and ever higher consumption. But that is not really sustainable… and it’s not really healthy either. We’re taught early on that more is better and he who dies with the most toys wins.
Millennials, who have been forced to deal with scarcity, are beginning to change this, as can be seen in the popular FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early) that teaches extreme frugality now to reach financial freedom later.
Now LOA disciples will say, “But what abundance? Doesn’t the Law of Attraction teach that it’s limitless? So why not have it all?”
Because behind all the manifestation magic, there’s one magic word that’s even more powerful: ENOUGH.
Sure it’s great to live materially comfortable, but excessive consumption won’t make you happy or fulfilled. As we’ve seen in countless lottery winners, not even a big chunk of money will do it. In fact, a lot of working-class lottery winners wind up in a worse place than from where they started.
What most people don't realize is that they’re trying to fill an inner emptiness through consumption and the piling up of material goods. But this is like the proverbial bucket without a bottom: however much you pour into it, it can never be enough to truly fulfill you.
Then what can fulfill you? What will do the job? Here are some ideas:
Service to Others Instead of Service to Self
Turn around and start serving others instead of just yourself. Think of how to make people happy and put a smile on their faces.
You don’t have to change the world; start with small, random acts of kindness, and actively consider what you can do today to make someone’s day. Over time, you will find this so gratifying that you’ll naturally want to do more.
It’s actually been proven that even people in the thralls of anxiety and depression can drastically improve their health if they get out of their own heads and start working for a charitable cause.
Production Instead of Consumption
Instead of mindless consumption (that goes for products, food, TV, and social media), try producing something in your spare time.
Take up crafting or wood working; take a class that teaches you a hands-on, practical skill like cooking or painting. Start writing short stories or poems, or get going on that memoir or debut novel.
Making something with your own two hands is incredibly satisfying—especially for us brain workers whose only output at the end of the day is a bunch of words and numbers on a piece of paper or screen.
As an added benefit, if you get really good at making something, you might even be able to sell it and make some extra cash.
However, if this means your new hobby just becomes another chore, then don’t do it. To make this work, it’s essential that you keep having fun and not consider your productive side gig as a dreaded “second job.”
Turning to God
A lot of people who try to self-medicate with consumption and short-term relationships really have a “God-shaped hole” in their hearts that nothing will fill… except for getting closer to God.
In 1670, French mathematician, physicist, and Catholic theologian Blaise Pascal wrote:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
Many people who find spirituality or religion report that it made them exceptionally happy and content to feel in communion with God. You might want to give this a try.
I’m sure there are more ways to find non-material fulfillment than these three, but they are a good start to get thinking.