Happiness is not a feeling– it is a state of being, a certain fleeting content.
When holding a physical thing, such as a book or an old wooden bowl, I can remember exactly where I was when I picked it up for the first time. A summer-hot-and-musty-smelling used book store on 4th Ave. An antique shop on the east side of town, between the second and third shoulder-height metal shelved aisles. Holding something new for the first time induces a chemical bonding; a magnetic pulse spreads from my fingertips into my heart and I feel compelled to take whatever that thing is that I’m touching home. A telephone table, a new LP. In that moment, is it happiness? No. It is excitement. An item’s potential is what drives me to continue buying things– I can play this musical instrument for hours and create music! I can wear this dress out on the weekend, and maybe catch a few eyes!
And after this idealistic vision is achieved at least once (sitting at my desk with a new typewriter, buying another flower vase that is filled with grocery store cheapies), there is a large chance that I will not continue to use it regularly– now this may say more about my character than anything, but materialism is a trait of impulsive people with shallow perceptions of their futures, not just me, to which all that applies anyway.
There is a point when I realized that I had too many things. Things on every surface– little ones, clustered, stacked, invading floor space, wall space, closet space… and so I attempted to pare down my possessions. The first part of that process was understanding how it all got there.
I bought excitement, and owned a physical representation of that– a sunk cost– and that item collected dust from misuse and now glancing at it shoots a pang of regret right through my eyes into the back of my skull (where shame hides). And I know I must change, or that thing must go.
So, when I buy things, I am not buying happiness. In fact, happy is what I am on a thirty-mile bike ride. Happy is what I am under the covers, a second before I slip out of being awake. Happy is not quantified in materials or the feelings attached to those.
So remarks about buying happiness are confused. They are said often. “Money can buy happiness,” “Money can’t buy happiness,” or anything attaching money in any way to happiness is incorrect– in my opinion, it is illogical to correlate them even with a positive or negative statement. Really, you can buy excitement (that adrenaline of a card-swipe and the crinkle of a plastic bag as you walk out of a store) and via excitement you have nostalgia (holding that same item, months later, wondering why it was used only three times), and somewhere in between the two you have willfull ignorance.
Happiness is something you must work for on your own– and money can’t buy that.