The Five Thieves of Happiness: Consumption

The Five Thieves of Happiness are five harmful mental thought patterns that prevent us from living a joyful life. These destructive patterns cause us to stand in the way of our own happiness and prevent us from leading a fulfilled life.

Dr. Izzo, who coined the term “Five Thieves of Happiness” argues that to find true joy, we need to learn how to identify and “lockout” these thieves by rebuilding our thought patterns and living a more thoughtful, compassionate, and happier life.

The Five Thieves of Happiness (sometimes referred to as the 5 C’s) are control, conceit, comparison (or coveting), consumption, and comfort. We’ve already introduced the first three of the Five Thieves of Happiness; you can read about them below:

What Makes You Happy?

Humans do a lot of things in the pursuit of happiness. We work towards promotions, we make friends, we try new hobbies, we date in the hopes of finding our soulmate. On the surface, this seems productive, but there’s one thing these pursuits have in common: they’re all external sources of happiness.

Dr. John Izzo says the fourth thief, consumption, is the thief that tells us there is something outside ourselves that we need to achieve happiness. He compares it to a thirsty person with a large bottle of water but a hole in their throat. No matter how much they drink, they’ll never quench their thirst.

We center our happiness around “if” and “when” statements:

  • I will be happy when I get promoted.
  • I will be happy if I get a big bonus this year.
  • I will be happy when I buy a larger house.
  • I will be happy when I lose weight.

Consumption is frequently associated with buying things, and Izzo agrees that buying material items is a part of the problem. After all, we live in a capitalist society that’s built on the foundation of consumerism. Buying things is just part of the human experience.

According to the researcher Aric Rindfleisch from Michigan State University:

“If you’re a materialistic individual and life suddenly takes a wrong turn, you’re going to have a tougher time recovering from that setback than someone who is less materialistic. The research is novel in that an event that’s unrelated to materialism will have a stronger impact on someone because of their materialistic values. In other words, materialism has a multiplier effect.”

However, Izzo expands his idea of consumption in The Five Thieves of Happiness. He argues that consumption, at its core, is the belief that happiness is “out there” somewhere. We don’t just consume things, we can also consume:

  • Love: We seek to get others to love us
  • Experiences: We seek out adventure and new experiences
  • Success: We seek out success in our careers and relationships

Consumption is an insidious habit that makes happiness something that’s always just out of reach if only we can accomplish/buy/achieve the next “big thing.” What if, instead, we simply chose just to be happy right now? For no other reason than because we want to?

Does It Bring You Joy?

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” - William Morris

In 2019, best-selling author and organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, took the nation by storm. Her famous KonMari Method™ helped people transform their lives just by, well, tidying up. The show became so popular that her name is now informally used as a verb (“I Marie Kondo’ed my house last weekend.”).

Her method is simple—you keep only what ‘sparks joy’ in your life. By following this method, you reduce clutter, unburden yourself of unnecessary material possessions, and ensure that you’re surrounded only by possessions that bring joy to your life.

I put the KonMari Method into practice when my husband and I moved out of our long-term family home last year to a different state. The amount of stuff we’d accumulated over 25 years was, frankly, embarrassing. It’s no secret that I love to shop! But shopping was also a crutch for me — it was a stress reliever, and I found myself shopping (physically or online) anytime I felt anxious.

But when faced with the premise of boxing up all the stuff we’d accumulated, I was overwhelmed. My husband and I decided to narrow down all our possessions to whatever we could fit in the back of our (smallish) SUV. Everything else was donated or given to friends and family. It was a massive downsizing, but by the time we moved, I felt so much lighter. Now, in our new home, we’ve decided to maintain a more minimalist lifestyle. Our focus is on cultivating memories through experiences, not possessions. We try only to buy things we truly need or things that bring joy. When I get the familiar urge to shop during high-stress periods in life, I have found a more productive way to redirect that urge by purchasing supplies for local charity and volunteer organizations.

Simplifying your life by decluttering your home, office, or other space can help create a more peaceful existence. Marie Kondo argues that having a tidy home isn’t itself a destination. Instead, the process of reassessing your belongings and your living spaces can be very transformational. You have to listen to your own inner voice—and by deciding what you want to own, you’re also deciding how you want to live.

Of course, consumption doesn’t only apply to material possessions. You can ask yourself this same question, “Does it spark joy?” about any number of things in your life: your career, your relationships, or your hobbies. If you reflect on these things and realize they’re not ‘sparking joy,’ maybe it’s time to do some additional decluttering.

Today, I Choose Happiness

We’ve become conditioned to think that happiness is a by-product of something else. To combat the fourth thief of happiness, Consumption, we need to look inward. Dr. Izzo argues that happiness is a choice—it’s a simple but radical idea. Instead of framing happiness around “if” and “when” statements, replace those thoughts with a simple mantra:

“I can choose happiness and contentment right now. It is a product of my mind, not a result of what is happening. Right now, I will choose happiness.”

Every time you start thinking, “I will be happy if/when…”, take a pause, reflect, and repeat the above mantra. You can repeat this process every time you get the urge to make an impulse purchase or start seeking out your “next big thing” that you think will make you happier. We don’t need to consume constantly. Sometimes, it’s okay to just “be”—and it’s more than okay to just “be” happy.

Stay tuned for our fifth and final installment on the Five Thieves of Happiness to learn more about getting out of your routine and addressing comfort.