Friday, January 30, 2009

Pocket Change: Reexamining the Value of Our Culture of Consumerism

Pocket Change: Let's Start A Revolution
Originally uploaded by lorenzodom

I just finished reading Stumbling on Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert, in which he concludes that more money does not lead to greater happiness, once one’s basic needs are met.

After someone has enough to be lifted out of relative poverty, it doesn’t really matter if they make $100,000 or $100 million dollars, because more often, more money simply leads to less of what really counts in life.

However, much like Joseph Heller explains in Catch-22 through the shenanigans of his character Milo Minderbinder, sometimes organizations and national cultures are set up to irrationally self-propagate and perpetuate.

Thus, Gilbert likewise concludes that money only makes the world go around because it is self-serving. If we didn’t live in a society that valued its status as an economic superpower, we might all be happier because we’d be working less, have less debt and have less stress.

In turn, we’d have more time to spend time with people simply; more time to pursue activities that do not necessarily require an exorbitant amount of disposable income or use of credit cards that are already over-extended; and we’d allocate more time to all those intangibles that count and that we otherwise neglect because we are constantly trying to make or spend more money.

In other words, if we made an effort to spend less money, we might end up much happier in the end.

Today, with the dire economic downturn, for many of us, making an effort to spend and consume less is not only a prudent goal, but an urgent necessity.

Thus, I propose that maybe it is time that we reexamine the value of our national Culture of Consumerism. Maybe we need to actively watch less TV, buy things only if we really need them, and spend more time with others, and ourselves at home.

In essence, we need to first become conscious of those things that we unnecessarily spend money on and then we need to proactively not spend money on them, even, and especially, after the economy recovers.

Think about it next time you go shopping for anything—clothes, food or entertainment. Think about whether or not you actually have the time to enjoy or use it all; think about whether or not you actually are making the most of what you’ve already got at home; think about whether or not more actually means less.

Moreover, we’ve got to think about the value of everything we own or possess or store and have to maintain. When’s the last time you used the board games you have stored in the closet? When’s the last time you read all those books you have gathering dust on the shelf? When’s the last time you wore that outfit or those shoes or that tie?

If you find that you have all these things for no good reason, consider selling or better yet, giving them away. Because if you set out to sell everything on e-bay, you’re just using more time to perpetuate the ugly money cycle; whereas if you magnanimously donate your used goods to Goodwill or the Salvation Army you don’t have to worry about setting prices, packaging, shipping, corresponding, worrying and waiting.

Ultimately, you should sit down and assess how you might improve your life, your self and most importantly, the lives of others, by adopting a lifestyle that requires spending less. And then, you should systematically, over time, set out to change your life accordingly.

Over time, if we make an effort to be less materialistic as individuals, together we can ultimately change the culture that pressures us into proving our net worth. And over time we will improve our way of life by demonstrating that what is most important is that we have a grasp on what we are and not what we have.

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson


Check out 25 Lessons I’ve Learned (about photography) at

No comments: