The richest sentence I’ve ever read said that
“wealth is not the possession of abundance, rather it’s the freedom from need”.
Unfortunately, as long as the pursuit of money drives our society, and is synonymous with success, recognition, and even respect, we will continue chasing materialistic goals.
Lately, green consumerism and eco-conscious movements have been gaining more publicity, although not because of our belief in their ability to improve environmental outcomes, but because we are ashamed of our consumption practices. As we should be.
But just as we individually and collectively drive the forces of supply and demand (into overdrive!), we should also be able – and willing – to step on the breaks.
We need SOLUTIONS.
The problem is not that people are unaware, the problem is that they don’t care because this is ‘normal’, ‘everyone is doing it’, and also, environmental changes are not personal. We are selfish creatures.
Deep and lasting changes can occur on local, community levels, such as showing support for cooperative, collaborative and sharing principles. A slice of it resulted from reduce-reuse-recycle campaigns, but sadly, the rest was due to people’s financial constraints.
Because we are conditioned to think and behave according to what our social circle approves of, the only way to reverse the scale of conspicuous consumption is to shame the people who flaunt their materialistic means by disapproving of their behaviour.
Realistically, while in the developed world we may be getting a bit bored of trivial luxuries, there are millions of people in the emerging economies that are just coming to their means and learning how to channel their newly acquired powers. And it is a horrifying image.
For change to happen on a large scale, to become a movement, something has to drive it, something radical. The Occupy movement was a movement because 1) it was pro-active, 2) it provoked everybody, and 3) it was cool, in a rebellious kind of way.
So, conscious consumption has to become a lifestyle, not a trend, but it should start like a trend because trends help propel ideas. Can ‘moderation’ suddenly become cool? For it to reach a critical mass, the general public has to see a benefit. An immediate benefit. We are spoiled creatures.
Still, the most gratifying activities in life are completely free: a laugh with friends, a morning swim, sex… Instead, we go for a higher ‘high’ and a more intense adrenaline rush: base jumping, heli skiing, swimming with the sharks – all incredibly thrilling, but also incredibly expensive adventures. They are addictive because they create an (artificial) escape from an ordinary routine, eventually becoming a very pricey lifestyle that needs constant upkeep. We are creatures of bad habits.
The fundamental question is: how to find gratification in non-material things, making them equally appealing, and simultaneously dispel the myth that purchasing things make us happy?
Let’s establish a Ministry of Happiness and put it in charge of maintaining a level of contentment by helping the public balance personal development, relationships and career.
This Ministry will ensure that the use of phrase “retail therapy” is aborted. It will lobby for 3-day weekends and 6-week annual vacations. Not to worry, no company or organization is that productive, businesses will survive. Alternatively, they can hire people as fillers, thus reducing unemployment rates: win-win.
It will decrease our salaries accordingly because the aim is simply more leisure time to devote to creative pursuits, not more time to acquire possessions.
On a more serious note, its ‘mindless to mindful consumption campaign‘ will address the fundamental underlying issues: vanity, passivity, the need to escape from ordinary life, irrational consumerist behaviour – in other words, the lack of interest, motivation or energy for a fulfilled life.
It’s a thin line between a problem and a solution, and this line is:
‘no, I don’t need it, I’m content‘.