Your stuff sucks! You suck! How can you be happy with that? What you need is new stuff. This is the message we’re blasted with all day and every day to propel the golden arrow of consumerism. Our American society is built around its citizens consuming more and more. Likewise, we’re distracted from all the consequences of our consumer habits – from the environmental damage, the slave-like livelihoods of those making our stuff (more on these in a future post), and the government catering more to corporations than to its citizens.
All of these points are illustrated well in The Story of Stuff (embedded above). Although this video seems geared toward kids, it provides a thoroughly important message for everyone. It shows how we’re under constant barrage of messages telling us to get new things, and how much happier we’d be to have them. Consider your daily life – how often are you exposed to advertising? On the TV. On websites. On billboards while driving. In the news. In people talking about and showing off the latest and greatest new product. We’re swimming in it!
Consumer product companies have also developed strategies to keep us buying stuff. Consider planned obsolescence, where products are designed to break (or become obsolete) as quickly as possible but lasting long enough to maintain customer loyalty. Our technological advancement is also slowed down – companies are better off holding off on features so that they have something to add in the next version of the product and so on. (It’s an unfortunate situation that most every company must adhere to this if it intends on being successful.) Also consider the more powerful forces of perceived obsolescence, where consumers are convinced that they need to buy the latest and greatest despite already owning something that is fully adequate.
All this has much to do with our daily lives and our happiness. As the video states, “What’s the point of an ad except to make us unhappy with what we have?” We’re fooled into thinking we need more stuff and newer stuff. Consequently, we have to work longer and harder to have more money to buy more stuff. The cost of this on happiness is staggering because it takes away time – something money can’t buy. This lifestyle leaves little time to spend with family and friends. It leaves little time for learning and adventure. It leaves little time to take care of our wellbeing. All of these things are core to our happiness and yet we’re doing ourselves a disservice by living the consumer lifestyle.
So what can we do about this to make our lives better? The first thing is to be aware of all these forces and how they act on us. The next step is to be mindful of any consumer product and ask important questions: Is this something I really need? Do I already own something that is sufficient? Will owning this product really make me happy and for how long? Are there great opportunity costs to get this product? Would the hours I spend working to pay for it be worth it? Or am I better off spending my time on something else?
I’ll admit that I used to buy things without really thinking about it. Watching The Story of Stuff really opened up my eyes to the mindlessness of the whole thing and how I was a slave to false desire. Since then, I’ve cut back on buying things. I’m understanding that it’s not necessary to own things. Through a more pragmatic approach, I’m living a happier life. You can too.