Less Stuff & More Living | Omega

Once referred to as the "Me Me Me Generation," millennials may actually be spearheading a significant cultural shift from consumption to connection in the United States.

Younger generations often indicate where we're headed as a society, and if that's true for millennials, recent evidence suggests we're on course for a happier future, one with less stuff and more connection to each other.

The Pew Research Center reports millennials are confident, connected, and "receptive to new ideas and ways of living." While they are predicted to be the first generation in United States' history to make less money than their parents, they also have less interest in buying cars, homes, and other big-ticket items.  

Whether millennials want less stuff because they can't afford it or don't find value in it (a chicken and egg kind of question), it turns out the rest of us are starting to want less stuff, too. (Take Pew's How Millenial Are You? quiz.)

In a survey released in May 2014 by Havas Worldwide, half of all adults said they would be fine without most of the items they own, 70% said overconsumption is a problem for the planet, and 65% agreed we would be better off if we owned less and shared more, reported USA Today.

With the advent of the cloud, and the skyrocketing growth of the sharing economy—a system that allows shared access to goods, services, data, and even talent (think Zipcar and Airbnb)—it is now easier to own less, so people are. For example, car ownership has dropped steadily since the mid 2000s, a trend led by millennials, according to the New York Times. 

A Values Shift is Taking Place

But why do people want to own less? Josh Allan Dykstra, founder of the consulting firm Strengths Doctors, proposes in an article in Fast Company that we're "experiencing an evolution in consciousness." He suggests that because we can now get anything we want at any time on the internet, we percieve more value in connection and experiences than in things.

We may still buy stuff, Dykstra says, but, "today, a product or service is powerful because of how it connects people to something—or someone—else."

The growth of websites like I Do Foundation and So Kind, which allow you to gift skills, time, and experiences or donate to charity, as well as the exponential growth of voluntourism, are perhaps signs we're looking for contentment in ways other than filling our lives with contents. 

We also may want to own less because we can now see the environmental impact of our choices—the average American generates more than four pounds of waste per day, and about 40 percent of the food we buy ends up in the trash (it is the largest component of solid waste in our landfills).

And we have evidence that all this stuff stresses us out, including a study of moms whose stress hormones spiked when they had to deal with all the stuff that had accumulated in their houses. 

Because I'm Happy

This values shift to a less-stuff, more-experience ethos may also lead to an increase in overall happiness.

According to Michael Norton, coauthor of the book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, spending money on experiences rather than stuff also equals greater happiness. “Purchasing things like televisions, clothes, and coffee machines won't make you happier overall—but buying experiences maximizes happiness," Norton told CNN.

The Happy Planet Index—a global measure of sustainable well-being created by Nic Marks—finds that the happiest people in the world are not the people with the most stuff. “Countries like Costa Rica outrank the UK in the Happy Planet Index because their inhabitants live long and happy lives using a fraction of the planet’s resources than we do,” said Saamah Abdallah, senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation.

Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, suggests experiences make us happier than things because we often share experiences with others, fulfilling a need for connection and bonding, echoing the sentiments of millennials, who are modeling for the rest of us the way to be upbeat and open to change in uncertain times.

© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies