Why do you go to a bar?
This isn’t a rhetorical question. The answer most people would give, to drink, is only correct some of the time. Drinking at a bar is an excuse to have a shared experience. It’s an activity that a person can do in public among other people. People go to bars to be in public. To be social. To be with people.
There are exceptions, certainly, but think about it this way: if you want to drink, there are usually better ways to do so. It’s cheaper to drink at home. Home is also a place where your drinking is less likely to be interrupted by other people. You don’t have to drive afterward. Logically, if one’s true desire is to drink, a bar is not the most ideal place to do it.
This same logic can be applied to lots of things.
You generally don’t buy a flashy watch to tell the time. You don’t buy high heeled shoes because they’re better for walking in than sneakers.
Bars, expensive watches, and high heeled shoes all have purposes, but not always the purposes we tell ourselves they have when we spend money on them. If I want to drink, I’ll get a bottle of wine and go home. If I want to hang out with people, I’ll go to a bar.
What’s important is that we know why we buy what we buy. Awareness of the purpose behind a desired product or experience can help us better understand what we’re hoping to get out of life, and what could be missing from it in the meantime.
I tell myself I want a massive television for watching football, but in reality I’m hoping for an excuse to have people over more frequently. If I’m able to get down to the root of that need, it’s likely I can solve the problem, not having friends around often enough, without taking out a mortgage on the house. I can achieve those same ends in a different way.
There’s nothing wrong with spending money to fulfill a need. That’s what money’s for, after all. But it’s best to be sure that what you’re buying will fill the need you have, not one you’re being told you should have. Money can buy happiness, but only if you’re shopping for the right things.
Update: February 23, 2017
That last line became a somewhat viral quote that people use for all kinds of random things. I see it on Instagram posts, for instance, that promote rampant, thoughtless consumption. Which kind of misses the point, but I guess you can’t control the words you put out into the world. One of the dangers of clicking ‘publish’ on a blog.