For all its insights, the book also shows the limitations of a psychological approach. The human brain might make us inherently acquisitive, but what and how much people acquire has changed fundamentally over time. Buying an ancient vase is different from buying a brand new car or from being a lover of fast fashion. It was modern societies that placed a new value on novelty and opened the door to the ever-faster arrival and disposal of stuff. The enormous, unprecedented tsunami of stuff today has its roots in cultural and economic changes, not neurons.
Possessed’s political argument is the familiar one that, in an age of global heating, we need to get off the hedonic treadmill of shopping-led overproduction. Unhelpfully, though, it conflates the acquisition of objects with wealth (not every comfortably-off person is a hoarder), and fails to distinguish between classes of object that it might be more or less admirable to purchase... Laudably, Hood does cite evidence even where it undermines his general argument. The lately fashionable theory that buying experiences, such as holidays or restaurant meals, makes people happier than buying things is, he shows, true only for the relatively rich: poor people are happier with more stuff. Other evidence suggests that “owning luxury goods produces a sense of well-being”, and general “life satisfaction” does reliably increase with wealth. Hood takes pains to distinguish such satisfaction from happiness, which is a term he uses uncritically until the very end of the book, when he suddenly (and rightly) declares that modern society’s focus on happiness – a fleeting and contingent emotion – is misplaced anyway.