I apologise for quoting other voices so much, but the subject of consumerism and its effect on happiness is a seemingly popular topic and there are many more intelligent souls than I whose words on the topic are worth considering: In reading details of a new book titled, Stuffocation: Living More With Less, by James Wallman, I discovered a debate concerning whether or not materialism and the ability to own more of what we ‘wanted’ made us happier or not. I have not as yet read the entire book but think it will be quite a revelation when I do….but, did I really not suspect that consumerism was NOT the answer to the search for happiness? Or the search for meaning? This is part of what I read:
‘A Hungarian-American economist called Tibor Scitovsky had [a] suggestion to explain why increasing prosperity was not leading to more happiness. In his 1976 book The Joyless Economy, he wrote that it could be because of materialism's 'dark side': all the unintended consequences of material progress such as the harm it does to our health, the environment, and future generations because of 'our reckless brandishing of weapons, extermination of pests, squandering of resources, popping of pills, ingesting of food additives, and use or overuse of every mechanical aid to our comfort and safety'. (my bold accentuating)
I’m not sure that that is the ‘whole story’.
Apparently, since the end of World War 2, when the opportunity to accumulate more goods was emerging, folk (naturally, I suppose) expected that the accumulation of more goods would add to their happiness level.
But it did not happen; in fact, the opposite became the case.
Why is that?
The Pursuit of Happiness
Could it be found in the statement (above) that mentions all the harm our materialism does to our bodies and to our environment?
Or is it more to do with the fact that consumer desires and the ‘need’ to ‘have all we can’ has replaced the previous held mores of family and neighborhood bonding, general goodness, kindness and unselfishness; society and community involvement – even spirituality - and maybe intellectual stimulus?
Does the following add to the answer?
Posted in 2011, by Megan E Birney (on a social psychology site):
‘In his article The Medium Chill, David Roberts suggests that it is this pursuit of happiness that drives our economy. In order for the cycle of spending and debt to work, every consumer needs to believe they would be happier with that new iPad, that designer outfit, and that bigger home. And, in order to achieve these things, we spend the bulk of our time working long hours and putting up with terrible commutes. As Roberts points out, these hours spent working are too often at the expense of our relationships with family and friends.’
Ms Birney goes on to write: ‘Decades of psychological research suggest that strong interpersonal relationships may be more important than material wealth when it comes to feeling happy.’
Questions should we ponder?
And…..in another quote from Stuffocation: Living More With Less, “In today's culture, material goods have become substitutes for deep and genuinely meaningful human desires and questions. Consumer culture has become a sort of pseudo-religion. Instead of pondering meaningful questions, like 'Why am I here?', 'What happens after death?', 'How should I live?', it's easier to focus on questions like 'The blue one or the red one?', 'Will that go with the top I bought last week?', 'What will she think if I buy that?'
Instead of trying to understand who we really are, we reach for the 'Real Thing'. And, brainwashed by the system, when the goods we buy fail to match up to those deep desires, instead of giving up on material goods, we just keep banging our heads against the wall and buying more.”
So, what are we to make of all this?
Is it too late? Has ‘the horse bolted’ and we cannot re-stable it?
Sadly, I suspect so.
But what of our search for happiness?
I don’t have the answer - and I wonder if any books currently available on the subject can truly provide the clues we need.
Perhaps it will take a calamity of some sort – whether world wide or on an individual level - to awaken us to what is real and what is worthwhile.
A simpler life, that is, a life lived more simply seems to be the answer but I, for one, can’t see many people embracing that philosophy.
Here’s a scary quote: ‘Two major new studies by an international team of researchers have pinpointed the key factors that ensure a liveable planet for humans, with stark results.’ published in The Guardian, 17/01/2015)
“We are clearing land, we are degrading land, we introduce feral animals and take the top predators out, we change the marine ecosystem by overfishing – it’s a death by a thousand cuts,”………. “That direct impact upon the land is the most important factor right now, even more than climate change.”
(Re-tweeted by 350 dot org)
Could massive consumerism lead to whether or not the planet Earth is habitable?
But I am digressing back on one of my ‘favourite’ soap box topics of global warming and climate change.
However I think it’s all connected one way or another.
The pursuit of happiness, the future of mankind – happy or unhappy – may possibly, one day, turn out to be dependent on the ruination (or not) of our planet……and how we go about ruining it.
(I think it’s happening now).
I am trying hard to ‘do the right thing’.
I have three sisters and we have decided that for birthday gifts we can only give each other something that can either be eaten or used.
So far, two of my sisters have been given (from me) some (The Body Shop) soap, a large face-washer and a lotto ticket.
Certainly the lotto ticket turned out to be quite useless on both occasions, but it didn’t produce much land-fill – and it almost gave them some happiness!
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.