Have you ever been lied to? Has someone manipulated you to get what they wanted from you at your expense? Has someone broken a promise to you without regard to your needs or feelings? How did that make you feel?
What would you think if I told you that you are being manipulated over 4000 times a day? That is the number of advertisements that the average person is exposed to every 24 hours.
Advertisements have been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The majority of ads have one purpose, to get you to buy a service or product. And in the new millennium, we have reached a higher level of social intrusion with the advent of customized ads designed to target individuals based on their personalities and weaknesses.
If I want to sell you something, I need to convince you that what you have is not good enough, and I then need to offer you a solution. “Your teeth are not white enough; I have something that will make them look better.” I also need to give you a reason why white teeth are essential. This can be done in a variety of ways. For instance, I can show an unhappy, rejected person with yellow teeth. I can then show a beautiful white-toothed person hanging out with other beautiful people. Now white teeth are associated with youth, beauty, friends, and happiness.
You may think that you can ignore ads, but the evidence suggests otherwise. A researcher had subjects purchase one of two pens. Of the two writing implements, one was superior. The researcher had the subjects watch a video, and in that video was embedded hidden ads for the inferior pen. At the end of the experiment, 60-80% of the subjects choose to purchase the inferior pen, despite objective evidence to the contrary.
Adolescents see up to 30,000 TV commercials every year, and it has been shown that they negatively influence teens to eat more, drink more, and (in the day) smoke more.
There is surprisingly little research on the impact of advertisements on happiness. However, a study was published in 2019 that tracked overall societal happiness compared with total ad money spent in a given country. There was a negative correlation between the two. In other words, more ads mean a less happy society.
I have long been convinced that advertising, in general, makes people unhappy. Many ads make you feel inadequate personally, professionally, or socially. If the ad is convincing enough, you buy the product or service, and in most cases, you find that you are either not happier or only temporarily uplifted. The latter situation is worse because you get a positive jolt that quickly fades. Our brains are wired to identify these good feelings and to seek them. Your brain sees the problem and comes up with a solution. What is that solution? Buy something else!
The average person can continue to buy unneeded things because of another unhappiness maker, easy credit, and the credit card. Some people assume that the “money” that they have on their card is “free cash.” However, banks don’t give out free money. Forty-one percent (average group) to seventy-three percent (higher risk group) of credit card holders don’t pay off their balance at the end of the month. When these individuals use their credit cards, they are taking out very high-interest loans.
The following pattern can emerge. An ad creates dissatisfaction and offers a solution. You buy into the message and purchase the service or product using your credit card. The product temporarily makes you feel better, but that happiness quickly fades, making you buy more items or services. Repeat the above. This leads to an additional problem, unnecessary debt, and all the stress that that brings. That stress leads to unhappiness, so what is the solution? Buy more!… and you are now in a purchase-debt-purchase cycle.
Many want to believe that there is an easy and painless way to feel whole and happy, and advertisers play on that desire. This rapid reward followed by quick removal of reward is a classic recipe for addictive behavior. The shorter the cycle, the stronger the addiction. However, you don’t have to be a compulsive shopper to deal with the negative side of purchasing unnecessary things. Let’s say that you need a car, but you really can’t afford a new one. However, with a little creative financing, you can have the luxury model of your dreams. A sensible used car would indeed transport you to your destination just as well. However, car salespeople don’t just sell cars; they sell fantasies.
When I was younger, most buyers took a car loan that ran three or four years. Now the typical car loan is six years (72 months), and seven-year loans (84 months) are also very popular. Bigger cars are now widespread, and massive SUVs can cost $40,000 or more. I recently looked at new Ford pickup trucks and their sticker prices were in the $50,000 to $70,000 range. According to Experian, the interest rate on a 72-month car loan is between 4.9 and 6.7 percent. The average of those numbers is 5.85 percent. If a consumer borrows $45,000 for 72 months at 5.8%, they will be paying around $740 a month for the next six years.
It was challenging to come up with hard facts, but the articles that I did locate suggested that many cars start to break down when they are around five years old. If you have a 6-year car loan or 7-year car loan, you will likely have to deal with both an expensive car payment as well as car repair costs. That car that made once made you feel happy is now a significant contributor to your unhappiness.
So is stuff the cause of unhappiness? No, stuff is just stuff. You may choose a minimalist lifestyle, but someone else may prefer more luxury. The critical thing to realize is that the buying of unnecessary items will not give you long term happiness, and may have the opposite effect.
So is lack of money the root cause of unhappiness? An often-cited 2010 Princeton study examined the correlation between money and happiness. The bottom line is that if you can’t meet your basic financial needs, you are more likely to be unhappy. As your income increases, you will become happier (generally). However, this effect tops out at around $75,000/year. People who made more money than $75,000 were not happier. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that wealth may have the opposite effect.
Our society also tells us that stuff and money are the sources of happiness. Wealthy, successful people who possess all of the right “toys” are portrayed as happy. However, scientific evidence says that these factors are not the secret to happiness. So what does make us happy? Luckily, there has been quite a bit of research on this topic, and the news is not good for advertisers. Why? Because most of the things that make humans happy are FREE.
Nine totally free ways to become happier
Your mother was right; If you get enough sleep, exercise, reduce your stress level, and eat well, you will be happier.
If you stay more focused, you will be happier. Practices such as meditation can help you focus.
Having free time makes you happier than having lots of money but little free time. No one on their deathbed wished that they would have worked more.
People who slow down and experience their surroundings are happier than those who rush through life. Smell the roses. Check out a sunrise.
Acts of kindness
Volunteering, being a good friend, and other acts of kindness benefit not only the recipient but also the giver. Evidence suggests that the more personal the act, the happier it will make you feel. Volunteering at a soup kitchen will make you happier than writing a check to a random charity.
People with a rich spiritual life and those that belong to a religion are not only happier, but feel more fulfilled.
Will an expensive vacation make you happy? Possibly, but only if you can afford it. However, there are many other activities that you can do that are free. Have a picnic, go to a free concert, take a hike in the woods, have a friend over to watch a movie. Have fun, and you will feel happier.
Stay in the present
I love the saying, “If you have one foot in the past and the other foot in the future, you are peeing on the present.” Are you always thinking about past successes or failures? Stop it! Are you living for the weekends? Stop it! You are where you should be right now. Stay in the present and celebrate the moment.
Spend time with others, connect with others, and genuinely love others.
For the last 80 years, Harvard University has been running a longitudinal study on what makes people happy. They followed both Harvard students and inner-city men over their lifetime. Also, the study is now tracking the offspring of the original participants. They found that happiness not only makes you feel better it also leads to better physical health. So what was the most significant factor in determining a person’s happiness? Was it wealth, social status, profession, IQ, genes? No, the most significant factor that makes someone happy is having close interpersonal relationships.
Bill Murphy Jr cites some sobering facts in his 2019 “Inc.” article.
- 40% of adults sometimes or always feel that their social relationships are not meaningful.
- 20% of Americans consider themselves socially isolated.
- 28% of older adults live alone
- Being lonely is the equivalent of smoking ¾ of a pack of cigarettes a day on a person’s physical health.
A close interpersonal relationship is not a popularity contest. A person with 1000 Facebook friends is not necessarily happier than the person with 10 Facebook friends.
Do you have someone in your life who has your back? Someone who you can be yourself with? Someone who is there for you during hard times? Someone who loves and accepts you for who you are? If you answer yes to these questions, you have a close interpersonal relationship. Who the relationship is with is irrelevant. Can it be your spouse? Of course. But it can also be a sibling, coworker, or friend.
We have a right to be happy. Sadly, we are often manipulated down a path that leads to unhappiness. If you want to be happier, examine the above list, and determine ways that you can implement some of the happiness points. Anything that you will do will move you in a more positive direction. Changing behavior requires time and consistency. However, the reward will be great.
Here is the audio reading of this podcast: