Consumerism and social media affected my definition of happiness

A student reflects on the impact consumerism promoted online had on her life.


I was 12 years old when I downloaded Instagram and started watching influencers promote products. Although I didn’t fully understand what a sponsorship was, I knew they looked happy, and I wanted that. 

The people I saw on my phone screen had organized homes and carefully decorated rooms that I envied, but couldn’t achieve because I was a young girl without any income. 

People online constantly attributed their happiness to the beautiful things they had, like room decorations, makeup products and clothes; my young developing brain began to associate material possessions with success. 

It didn’t matter if I already owned an item, it was useless to me if it wasn’t the same one influencers were recommending on social media. 

As I got older, my obsession for the products I saw online got worse. I was convinced my skincare routine wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t using the Ordinary exfoliating product that was viral at the time. By the time I got them, my room decorations made me unhappy because they didn’t fit the newest aesthetic spreading on social media. 

This mindset eventually led me to irresponsible financial decisions once I had income to spend. 

I spent more money than I should have and it caused me a lot of stress and frustration. I was caught up in the consumerism advertised online, staying up until the middle of the night making lists of all the items I needed to buy to emulate what I saw on my screen. 

“You are delusional if you think I’m buying you all that stuff,” my mom would say in the mornings when I’d show her my carefully curated list of products I thought would change my life. “You don’t actually need any of those things.” 

Despite my mom’s firm reminders, my desperation to buy new things only got worse growing up. I felt like a failure while scrolling through social media because my life still looked nothing like what I saw online. 

Trends quickly change; by the time I finally had the lights that I saw on my TikTok For You Page months ago, they were out of style and some new item replaced them. 

It wasn’t just the lights. 

I was convinced the latest viral skincare products would heal my acne and cute stationery would help me focus on school. I was constantly chasing an unobtainable aesthetic based on glamorous products that went in and out of style, expecting these possessions to increase my energy and improve my productivity. 

When I was 19, I moved out of my parent’s house to attend college and started managing my own money. I finally got the chance to achieve what I always wanted. I made a list of all the things I needed for my dream bedroomand ordered them online. 

Although I was surrounded by my new posters and adorable cushions, it didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t really need all that stuff. Most of these things were pretty, but ultimately useless, and I noticed that I didn’t even like them. 

The things I thought would bring me happiness didn’t have much influence on my emotions, and they didn’t make me feel accomplished. 

My acne didn’t go away and my procrastination problems were still haunting me. Having a bunch of clear storage organizers and colorful pencils didn’t help me concentrate, but having and sticking to a routine did.

Instead, buying everything I thought I needed left me feeling empty and guilty. I wasted my money, and I was embarrassed for believing materialistic things would fix all my problems. 

I knew then that I couldn’t let social media influence my decisions, and I finally understood my happiness was influenced by my actions instead of my possessions.

Occasionally when I go on social media I still envy what other people have; it’s hard not to do so when everyone appears so content with their lives. 

However, I’m now aware that buying something is not going to make me happy, which me from  falling into the cycle of consumerism that’s being promoted online. I know a cute pencil or a nice notebook is not going to change my life, and I realized I’m better off focusing on what I have instead of what I don’t.

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