Purchases and short-term happiness

Over the past few months I've bundled clothes and accessories into the following black garbage bag categories - "do not wear", "do not fit" and "what was I thinking?!". The Salvation Army and my good friend have received the bulk of these items, much to my friend's delight. I am uncertain as to what it was that spurred on the sudden urge to clean out my room but perhaps it was part of what I am doing at work and an effort to sort my crap.

Either way I went through a radical change, resulting in a couple of conclusions. I found that many of the items I possessed were just that, items. They were not belongings. I didn't feel any connection to them and although purchased with my earnings, didn't feel as if they belonged to me in both the physical and relational sense and so out they went. I did this three times through three different culls, each a more concentrated effort than the last.

It was cleansing, but also unnerving. As I sorted through the contents of my room from clothes to jewellery, it brought to the forefront the sad paradox of instant gratification that I had experienced at the time of purchasing. I found myself recollecting on the instances where I had bought things because they were cheap, it was a phase or just for the sake of it. I would then be left dissatisfied and much of it ended up in the bin. It was only until I found myself reading an interesting article  that I then came across one that related well to my experiences and recent thinking over the past few weeks. To the above list I then added other reasons why I purchased things that had no meaning and came to another conclusion.

When making decisions, people predict how different results will make them feel and how long this feeling will last (affective forecasting). An "informed decision" is made after having taken into account the possible emotions that would be experienced. Just as certain memories are tied up with certain smells or sounds, particular items can evoke varying responses. However, the article stipulates that the predictions of our emotions following the purchase will be inaccurately remembered after we purchase it. Visceral feelings, preferences and tastes will change and impact bias will promulgate as a result. 

The most common occurrence of this is when positive consumption-related emotions are linked to a particular object, perhaps the feeling that by owning a particular item will mean prolonged bliss and a different sense of self. The truth according to the principles in the journal article is that the item will appear nice for a while, burn out and in essence not make you as happy as you had thought it would. It is overly imagined that it would make the buyer more fulfilled. Once it is purchased, despite the fact that there is nothing wrong with it, the appeal diminishes.

Due to the misremembrance of our predictions, we continue to feel disappointed or irritable after having spent money on items and proceed to rate the emotions evoked from the purchase, as being less of what we had originally rated it to be. What had then seemed like a perfect purchase then becomes something that was an "okay" purchase. The initial feeling and emotion attached to the object when remembering is then downgraded and therefore remembered incorrectly. 

This catch twenty-two continues. People continue to purchase things that they overestimate will make them happy, and due to inaccurate affective forecasting, these purchases rarely live up to the emotion that is associated with it. The forecasted happiness is short and according to the article, people won't realise that their prediction on how happy a purchase will make them is actually inaccurate, and will continue to assume that purchases will make them happy but instead fall short.

Since reading the article, I have taken into account the concept of affective forecasting. There are so many more things I want to actually spend my earnings on, for example - travel, the home, donating to varying not-for-profit organisations etc. The efficient use of my money has become a top priority. Clothes that I had chosen because they were cheap, that season's fashion or because I saw a girl wearing something similar to it once, are not good enough reasons to be purchasing them. Most of it had lie unfolded and bundled in a pile on the floor at the back of my closet anyway.

Even when sorting through my shelves and book case, I have hoarded and bought so much crap over the years that quite frankly did not provide me any long term happiness or use. A prime example being the five pairs of $15 shoes I bought as quick fixes which broke within two months. Another example being the other two shoes I have bought - although in reality one pair doesn't quite fit properly and the other is too hard to match, all because I overestimated my potential happiness in buying them. To this day I still am yet to wear either pair, but because they were expensive, I have held onto them and they remain an example of not accurately predicting my future emotions or the item's future use.

These past few months have seen an adjustment in the way I spend my earnings and my judgement over what to buy and what not to buy. A fleeting feeling of happiness is not the reason why I should purchase. The short-term doesn't quite cut it for me anymore. It is instead about educated and well thought out purchases and the item's worth in a way that is more than just monetary worth. It is important to take into account the concept of "less is more", to purchase quality over quantity and to remember to have mindfulness. The added idea of affective forecasting also helps, too. And so far this year, it's worked well.