02/10/2014 11:48 am ET Updated Apr 12, 2014

Stop! Don't Buy That! Be Happy!

Conspicuous consumption is kind of a fun concept. We've all done it. Clothing. Cars. Jewelry. Homes. Does buying more things make you happier? Actually, yes. For the moment it does. The act of shopping actually raises dopamine levels. Dopamine is produced in the area of the brain associated with reward. So shopping and buying things gives you a zing of instant pleasure.

But then there is delayed gratification, which is like comparing a volcano (instant gratification/dopamine) with a babbling brook (contentment/serotonin). Dopamine is the roller coaster brain chemical. Serotonin is the calming, long-term happiness brain chemical.

The first step to conquering the urge to indulge in conspicuous consumption is to overcome hedonic adaptation, that is the human propensity to adapt to situations/things. Take airline travel for example. We should be psyched out of our minds when we get into a flying cylinder that flings us from coast to coast so that we can experience all kinds of adventures. But we aren't. We bitch and moan. Think of all the material items you've purchased that you really, really wanted only to have the glitter wear off and soon you find yourself wanting something else. Concentrating on gratitude for all the creature comforts and luxuries you have can help you overcome the propensity for hedonic adaptation.

The next step is to resist the urge to indulge in instant gratification. There are huge emotional rewards when you wait, plan, and save for something rather than put it on your credit card and equally bad, take out a loan. The security, self-satisfaction, pride fosters that babbling brook of serotonin, which leads to contentment and greater levels of happiness.