Capitalistic societies are sustained by a consumer economy. The more goods and services people buy, the more the economy grows. Predictably, this creates an environment in which the advertising industry flourishes where the goal is to promote products and services in ways that increase consumer spending.

The means by which this is accomplished is only marginally regulated and this often leads to a sizable gap between what is actually true and what the consumer is led to believe is true. This is why women with mannequin-like figures, fashion magazine hairdos, and Hollywood makeup are used to model fashionable dresses. The unspoken message is that if a woman buys this dress, she will look like the person modeling it, although that is rarely the case. For the same reason, exercise equipment is demonstrated by people who, long before the products they’re promoting were even manufactured, were already fit and trim. It is why the latest models of automobiles are shown gliding along the bucolic shoreline rather than swerving to miss potholes on an average highway.

Pay attention and you’ll see this strategy at work in the majority of commercials you come across. It is based on a tactic called marketing by association—a subliminal seduction of the mind where the intent is to entice you to associate the product with something desirable—a person, a place, or a lifestyle—thereby increasing the odds that you’ll purchase it. The overall message, of course, is that buying this or that product makes you a happier, more attractive, and more secure person.

The truth is, no product can or will achieve this for you; at least not for very long. Acquiring material possessions—from bigger purchases like houses or cars to smaller ones like the latest technological gadget or fancy garment—have only a fleeting effect on your happiness. This is why our cravings for material possessions usually escalate at a rate that equals or exceeds our incomes; nothing one could purchase is ever enough to fill one’s soul for long.

Propelled by marketing, however, we chase objects that we often don’t need and rarely use. Witness, for example, the large number of expensive boats that surely require long hours of labor for most of us to purchase, yet they end up floating endlessly in ghost-town-like harbors, slowly deteriorating from lack of use. This phenomenon is symbolic: owning more and more luxurious possessions fails to make people feel happier than they were before. In fact, some research shows that material goods make us less happy than we were before purchasing them. Due in part to the expense of insurance and the frustration and cost of upkeep, they actually increase our anxieties. Most important of all, though, is the simple reality that material things are impermanent and, in the end, provide neither the happiness nor the security for which we yearn.

Again, the happiness we all seek does not come from outside ourselves. Real happiness—the kind that endures—comes from inside us. This is why Sylvia Boorstein calls happiness “an inside job,” and why Horace Friess says that “all seasons are beautiful for the person who carries happiness within.”

But how do you find happiness within? Clearly, you won’t succeed by pursuing it as your goal. As the hedonistic paradox states, the more one seeks happiness, the less likely one is to find it. Instead, happiness must be allowed. It is your natural state, your default position, but ego interferes with your ability to be happy. Like a storm cloud hovering over what would otherwise be a perfect sunny day, ego shadows us everywhere, though we are mostly unconscious of it. Remove ego by becoming conscious of it, and sunshine and happiness are what remains.

~ Dr. David Mutchler