Friday, May 4, 2018

The Benefits of an Un-Hacked Brain

Belted sweaters are an optional benefit.
(Read Part 1, Part 2. Also see a similar post from Through My Lens talking about benefits of frugality.)

Let me begin this post by clarifying that I am not some sort of higher-plane anti-consumerist guru who never buys clothes or craves name-brand pizza. I see ads, and I react to them, just like everyone else. However, I do see a huge difference between how I used to respond to advertising and how I do now. Instead of wanting an item, then feeling martyred when I don't buy it, my standard reaction now is to think, “They’re trying to hack my brain!” and laugh it off, feeling a surge of pleasure that the system can’t control me. Un-hacking my brain has been a journey, but the benefits have already become clear. Here are just a few:

Contentment. Things don’t make you happy; experiences can’t even make you happy; contentment makes you happy. If I’m constantly chasing the next thing to consume, I can’t take pleasure in where I am right now.

Extra cash. I’ve heard people argue that little purchases don’t add up, but they really do. I’ve written about this before— people wondered how we were able to take three months of work to travel last summer, but the answer was simple: we’re frugal in some areas of our life so we can splurge on the things that really matter to us. Less eating out, more murdering our lawn to create a fruit tree paradise.

Clarity. When you tune out the advertisers’ voices, you gain greater clarity on what you actually like, what you actually need, and what you actually enjoy. For instance, I realized that I bought books just because I thought I needed to prove that I liked books, even though I’d much rather spend money on good homemade food (because you can’t borrow food from a library). 

Self-awareness. On a similar note, when you stop consuming on autopilot, you start understanding yourself better. One day I was feeling listless and depressed. A couple years ago, I would’ve gone thrift-shopping for records, bought a house plant, or gone out to eat. Since we don’t do those things much anymore, I just took a walk instead. I looked at the violets growing in people’s front yard, listened to a mockingbird run through a repertoire of songs, and watched the clouds floating over the city. I came home feeling happier than I would have if I had gone out and mindlessly consumed. 

Creativity. Advertisers want you to think that buying something is the only way to gain something or solve a problem. However, when you don’t go straight to money when a need arises, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities. Do I really need to buy a new book, or could I pick a book off my shelf that I haven’t read, go to the library, or ask to borrow a friend’s book? Do I need a new phone, or do I need to learn how to optimize and take care of the one I already have? Do I need to buy dinner and flowers for my mom for Mothers Day, or should I make a homemade meal and plant zinnia seeds for her instead? 

Deeper enjoyment. When you’re in the habit of responding to ads on autopilot, buying whatever will make you happy in the moment, you quickly grow numb. On the other hand, if you break free of that treadmill, you’ll find yourself more deeply appreciating the things you do buy. Dinner out, a movie at the theater, or a new shirt are much more interesting if you don’t indulge in them frequently! (The Center for the New American Dream posted a great excerpt about this from The Art of Frugal Hedonism.)

Freedom. It’s a giddy feeling to realize that you’re an adult and you don’t have to do what anyone— least of all advertisers— tell you to do. You don’t have to drive a fancy car. You don’t have to change styles with the seasons. You don’t have to go out to dinner for entertainment, or buy waxy chocolates and a stuffed bear made in China for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. Once you feel the freedom of not getting brain-hacked, you won’t want to go back!


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