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“Buying acts like a drug, well-being is then a lure”

In Western societies, where the model is that of materialism, the act of consuming provides a feeling of well-being. But it’s a decoy, explains Didier Courbet, professor at Aix-Marseille University. Didier Courbet, professor at the University of Aix-Marseille, is co-author of the book Connected and happy (Dunod, 2021), with Marie-Pierre Fourquet-Courbet.

You develop the thesis that materialism is an illusion of happiness. Why ?

Because we are wrong. Research conducted over the past ten years clearly shows that human beings are on the wrong track: those who are preoccupied with materialism are more unhappy than others. Happiness is not found in materialism. Owning and using an object provides only short-term satisfaction. The psychological and communication phenomenon is that of hedonic adaptation. The more we buy, the more we have little pleasures, the more we seek to have more of these little pleasures. It acts like a drug. Well-being is then an illusion. Which goes against the real happiness found in the meaning of one’s life.

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Why is it so complicated to moderate our consumption?

First, for reasons of cultural imagination. Our society encourages us to have an identity through objects, through products. Social networks and advertising dictate that we have a social image. Teenagers buy designer sneakers for the social identity they provide, the group they allow them to be part of.

“You have to ask the right questions. Do I need it? Is it a product good for the environment? Is this sneaker worth that much? We need to take back control”

Moreover, the human brain is always attracted by immediate pleasure. Hard to resist. This is, for example, the pleasure of a can of sweet soda. Finally, the narcissism of the human being is constantly activated by advertising and the media. They tell us that, in order to have confidence in ourselves or to be desirable, we must buy a garment, a perfume or any other product. Why do we experience these narcissistic needs? By emotional lack that the brain will want to fill. The problem between materialism and happiness starts very early in children: research shows that, from the age of 9, the more materialistic children are, the more they watch advertisements, and the less happy they are.

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This is what explains the addiction to consumption…

I prefer to use this word “addiction” for pathologies. We should rather talk about the difficulty of stopping. Our education teaches us badly to fill our emotional gaps with healthy pleasures, which can require effort. To lose weight, you will buy a slimming cream, rather than going on a diet. The human being always takes the easy way out.

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