It was our local council clean-up last weekend. The chance to throw out old goods and chattels. The streets were lined with ‘stuff’ and it got me thinking. Why do we need all this ‘stuff’? And does all this stuff (whether having thrown it away or still owning some) make us really happy?

The standard measure of society

We know that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the value of ‘stuff’ made by a country. It’s considered a measure of the standard of living. Feel free to look at the full Wiki-definition @

However GDP was invented post WWII when Britain needed to rebuild and its people needed stuff, lots of stuff.

In Australian society today, and all Western societies for that matter, whilst we have an addiction to economic consumerism (as reinforced by the piles of stuff outside people’s homes) I challenge whether GDP is the right measure for a quality standard of living.

Stuff doesn’t = happiness

GDP implies making (and therefore owning) more stuff makes people happier. However it ignores other indicators such as work/life balance, eco-friendliness, quality time with family & friends, and true happiness.

Recently I read an article about Britain being the first nation to officially record the happiness of its people (Gross Domestic Happiness)! Well some may say that there’s no need to measure that in Britain as they’re always a miserable lot, however with the impending Royal Wedding of William and Kate and the 2012 Olympics I’m sure Brits will be trending in the right direction.

Yes, in early April 2011, the UK Office of National Statistics sent out 200,000 questionnaires with 4 key questions:

  1. Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  2. Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
  3. Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
  4. Overall, to what extent do you feel that things you do in your life are worthwhile?

The results (as measured on a scale from 0 – 10) will be very interesting. Whatever they are, I believe it’s the start of a major trend in moving beyond thinking that ‘stuff’ makes us happy.

It’s the start towards thinking differently and that there is in fact more to life.

So I challenge everyone at your next council clean-up, don’t throw anything away. Re-cycle what you can by giving to charity. Or better still don’t buy new stuff!

And if you’re a marketer trying to sell us stuff, I challenge you to reassess the measures that you are using. What insights are you really acting on for your business? And are they measuring shifts in consumer happiness?

Happy hunting

If you want to explore happiness in a little more depth, then join the conversations at:

Be inspired by the Dalai Lama:

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”