Minimalism: A Happier Way of Life

"There’s more to life than bills and money and work."


(OlegD /

The quote above comes from the 2015 indie documentary, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things”. The film, starring Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, or “The Minimalists”, discusses minimalism, a concept that promotes the virtue of less is more, while also questioning the American ideal that material things bring happiness. The principles of minimalism reveal how we can all take a critical look at the ways we consume as a means to live a more purpose-driven, joyful life.

Studies Show: Consumerism Leads to Unhappiness

The Minimalists aren’t the only one taking notice of the connection between consumerism and unhappiness. In fact, a recent study conducted by Northwestern University demonstrates that people who place greater value on wealth, status, and material possessions have a higher chance of becoming depressed or antisocial.

During the study, researchers organized students into two groups. The first viewed images of luxury goods while the second group looked at neutral scenes lacking any consumer products. Afterward, both groups filled out questionnaires. Those primed to materialism with pictures of cars, electronics, and jewelry, rated themselves higher in depression and anxiety and showed less interest in social activities or working for a good cause. Studies like these force us to examine how the consumer-driven lifestyle affects our lives.

The Cycle of Consumerism and Unhappiness

While depression, especially in the Western world, has climbed to an all-time high, more Americans find themselves deeper and deeper in debt. According to recent data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the overall debt of the average American household continues to rise, and total credit card balances amounted to $784 billion in the second quarter of 2017, driven by mortgage, auto, and credit card debt. We have created a vicious cycle of consumerism and depression: buy more, earn more in order to buy more, create more stress earning more, become more depressed because of stress.

The Good News? We Have the Power to Decide How to Spend Our Money

“You don’t really have control of how much money you make, but you have full control over how much money you spend.” - Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

Minimalism presents a way out from the cycle of consumerism and unhappiness. Rather than working toward financial gain to buy more stuff we can’t afford and don’t really need, we can simplify and create financial freedom by spending less.

Minimalism doesn’t write off all material possessions as inherently bad. Instead, it examines priorities, stripping away the excesses in our lives of spending too much money, owning too much stuff, accumulating too much debt, while living with too little meaning. Minimalism forgoes the non-essential in order to focus on the things that enhance our lives, serve a purpose, and bring happiness.

Purpose-Driven, Instead of Consumer-Driven

Minimalism goes beyond just consuming material possessions. We can apply minimalism in all areas of life: relationships, technology, social media, health, education, passions, and beyond. It means using not only our money, but our time and attention with intention so that we fill our lives with things that bring us meaning and joy.

Minimalism helps rid of impulses, whether spending too much on clothes, mindlessly checking our phones, wasting time with toxic friends, or getting stuck in a career we don’t like. As Colin Wright explains in his essay, Minimalism Explained, “What Minimalism is really all about is reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff — the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities — that don’t bring value to your life.”

For each of us, as individuals, different things have their own value. If several pieces of artwork inspire you and bring meaning to your life, great! If Saturday afternoon rides in your convertible make you happy, then go for it. The minimalist lifestyle won’t look the same for everyone. You can bring more happiness into your life by slowly testing what you can live with and what you can live without. At the end of the day, minimalism is about creating the time, space and freedom to enjoy a more intentional, happier life.