A Guaranteed Reason Life and Work Are Not Fulfilling: The Consume-Purchase Cycle

by Alexander Heyne · 10 comments

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Today's Motto: Buy more. Bigger, better, faster. You need more.

One Good Reason Your Work and Life May Be Unrewarding

I noticed that my personality and thought patterns tend to change when I hang out with friends.  The conversations at some point get into who’s getting a new car, who got a raise or a new job with sweet benefits, who went traveling somewhere exotic, or who has got the latest eye-candy device.

Let me say right now: I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with discussing the latest toys or who bought a BMW 5 series.

However, the problem is that as soon as I’m on the way home, I find myself suddenly overcome with the urge for more.  My friends have instilled an artificial sense of lack in my own life.  It makes me want to trade my 2 year old LG Versa for an iPhone 4.  It makes me want to sell my 2003 Nissan Xterra and buy a new Camaro.  It makes me want to dump my old Dell and get a new MacBook.

So? Who Cares?


Externally, there’s no problem buying any and all new toys if you can afford it.  Externally, things look fine.  Internally, an insidious cycle is reinforcing itself over and over, every single time that you are knowingly or unknowingly exposed to it.

Think about it.

  • With your friends or family, people always talk with excitement about getting the newest gadgets
  • On TV, ads and celebrity tv always instill the idea that you need more: more beauty, more new toys, more technology, more money
  • Almost all forms of marketing and advertising we are exposed to on a daily basis want to instill a sense of lack in order to sell something

What that means is that whether or not you realize it, you are being conditioned every single day to artificially feel a sense of lack in your own life.

Enter the Consumer Cycle

The typical life situation for my friends is like this: they graduate college, get a job, pretty soon after get their own apartment, a new car, new phone and new clothes.  Five years later?  The exact same thing… a job that has changed a little, another newer car, newer phone, newer clothes.  Five years after that?  The same thing.. only the external circumstances slightly keep changing form.

The reason why this gets really boring, really quickly, is that it provides no internal content for life to thrive on.  It provides no real purpose.  Think about that for a second.  The cycle is self-sustaining.  It has no purpose other than to just exist for itself and work as a form of capitalism.  It is like work for work’s sake – completely unfulfilling and merely an ends to itself.

Why the Consumer Cycle Does Nothing For You, And Absolutely Nothing For Your Happiness

This vicious cycle sucks (by definition) because it provides nothing inherently valuable to you in the intrinsic sense.  It keeps you within the cycle by design. That’s why it’s extremely important to have a sense of purpose and clear goals no matter what line of work you’re in.

This isn’t a mass conspiracy to have you spend all your money or be a slave to the Man, but rather it’s an inherent weakness we have.

We freak out after 1, 5, 10, 15, or 25 years of repeating the same exact cycle over and over because, at the end of the day, we have nothing to show for the time.  There’s just an evolution of possessions.  Instead of investing time into flow-producing activities, activities with inherent, intangible value, or investing time into learning skills, I see a lot of us stuck in an illusory cycle of only transitory happiness with little to show at the end of a lifetime.

That really scares me.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

The resolution here is relatively simple:

  1. Understand that the sense of lack that media and friends may make you feel is completely artificial
  2. Find better investments for your time and money

Specific Suggestions For a New Life

I want you to think long and hard, putting yourself 10 years down the road.  If someone asks what you’ve gained or learned, what do you personally have to show?  If your spare time has been spent only on upgrading to the newest phone, a newer car, a different girlfriend….without anything that actually improves the content of your life, it’s time to start thinking.

Next time you get your paycheck, ask yourself: “how can I use this money so that I’ll remember it in 10 years?”  I doubt you’ll be thinking of the latest toy.

If you have a life that has money but is unfulfilling, these are my three suggestions to you: 

    1. Invest your money and time into a hobby, activity, group, or passion.  Learn a language.  Join a rock climbing club. Start an organization.
  • Learn a skill or do something you’ve always wanted.  Go learn salsa.  Take a course on video game design.  Go skydiving and bungee jumping.
  1. Travel, or better yet, move to another country for a period of time.

All of these provide intangible, inherently rewarding, sticky experiences that will exist far longer than your money will.  These experiences are also cumulative, so they provide a form of self-evolution.

 I don’t think it gets more rewarding than that.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Chen August 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm

it’s all about SELF CULTIVATION baby. everyone should unlock their own “qi gates”

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afheyne August 12, 2011 at 12:11 am

When you figure out how to do that do let us know , haha

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afheyne August 12, 2011 at 12:19 am

And Amen to the self cultivation part. I think that’s pretty much my main cardinal virtue in life. The Taoists got it down. But self-cultivation can be a pretty vague answer sometimes if someone asks you for one.

Reply

Sabine March 17, 2013 at 4:34 am

I have decided to take a sabbatical and travel. I’ll move to a different city after that. From the outside, all seem fine to friends and family, I have a flat of my own, a good job but I felt stuck. For the past two years, every year was starting to feel the same. I was getting stuck in my ways, having no more enjoyment for anything. At 36, I felt at times I was leading the life of a 70 year old woman. It was a very difficult decision to make as I moved to a country which is not mine 15 years ago and I am settled but I had to face the fact that there was nothing left for me here. I was getting depressed and not wanting the life I have anymore.
Your webpage has helped me to realize that I am not an isolated case and gave me the support and encouragement I needed as the reactions of acquaintances, friends and family have been quite negative or indifferent overall towards my project. It has been quite a shock but it made me realize that I am surrounded by a lot of people who are unhappy about their lives and who project their own disappointments, regrets and fears on me. It is for the better I am moving elsewhere, starting a new life. I have never felt that excited in a long time. The unknown is a friend again.

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Alexander Heyne March 18, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Sabine – Awesome!

That’s such good news that you are going with your gut and realize that the unhappy people around you are terrified of you living life again. Go for it and make sure to keep us posted on your adventures !

Best,
Alex

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Shirlanie June 14, 2016 at 8:07 am

Driving in my car really fast after work is the most exciting 15 minutes of my life everyday, true story! I laughed so much when I read this part because I thought to myself yesterday maybe I should become a race car driver, I seem to enjoy it and it makes me happy haha.. Thank you for the book you wrote, it has inspired me to do more with my life and to find my purpose, I will have to read it again to complete all the exercises because I was so intrigued and curious that I just had to read on, I could not stop. Thank you, this was the answer I was looking for!

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Alexander Heyne June 14, 2016 at 2:44 pm

Hahah, happy to help.

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Cris H August 19, 2016 at 4:20 am

Hi Alexander Heyne,

I am such a big fan of your blog as I am a recent grad-twenty something. Part of what made me so lost when I graduated (and me postponing the inevitability of graduation) was the structure of school (high grades, set class hours, set goals). Once that is gone – you feel a ‘lacking’ because that person (or me at least) no longer had a purpose. More school won’t necessarily fix this but may even postpone the question. Do you have any more suggestions or readings? I really like The Minimalists/Zen Habits (Leo B.) as well as minimalism ties nicely to cutting down to what one REALLY values.

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