If there is one thing that the happiness literature tells you (see my various blogs on happiness), it is that spending money on experiences gives you more happiness than spending money on possessions. As someone who tries to do that and to limit accumulating more stuff, when I heard about Possessed by Bruce Hood I thought it was one for me.
It is a fascinating book, that starts by asking ‘what is property’ and gives examples of how our view on that has moved on over time, given that people used to believe other humans were owned by their slave masters, wives were owned by their husbands and children were owned by their parents. It then goes on to look at the origins of ownership in more detail, delving deep into human history and examining the science of child development and how very young children understand the ownership of objects.
Hood then moves on to look at the relationship between possessions, wealth and happiness, examining the rise of consumerism, how possessions are used to signal status and success and how conspicuous consumption sees people making poor judgements about what will make them happy. Envy, competition, one-upmanship and loss aversion make it harder and harder to get off the treadmill of wanting more. He looks at how possessions are an extension of self and at cultural differences in valuing the self over the collective. Hoarding, home ownership and the rise in the use of storage units are also put under the spotlight before Hood ends by looking at the folly in our attitude to accumulating possessions.
I was already completely bought into this argument and I now wonder whether seeing it so well distilled here will actually help me to make better decisions in future?