A warning on consumerism

Western society is one of consumerism – we consume unnecessary resources for our own pleasure, and this is often at the expense of the environment and other community values. Consumerism is real, but as a means to happiness is a fallacy.

Many sociologists have predicted that our consumption focused behaviour will be the downfall of western society and that this is already being evidenced by social trends over the last 25 years where:

  • Incomes have risen rapidly, but our expectations have risen even faster.
  • Advertising via the media is creating an artificial level of expectation and propagating the culture of consumerism.
  • Because our expectations are artificially high, we are unhappy if we can’t afford all the material items we think we should have.
  • As a society we are generally becoming more unhappy with our lot in life as we keep trying to get more money, so we can spend more money on more things [that we really don’t need anyway].
  • Material possessions are becoming more valued than human values such as respect, honour and integrity.
  • Moral standards are lowering, and self-centred crime driven by personal greed and lack of respect for others is increasing.

If consumerism is the bullet in our demise, then undoubtedly the media is the weapon.

The media is a very powerful thing – it features heavily in our lives and is literally everywhere we go. It is therefore a large influence on what we think and do.

I know what you’re thinking – just because it’s on TV or in the latest fashion magazine doesn’t mean we are forced to go and buy it. We all know that we can choose what we buy but because we are being constantly bombarded with images of wealth, material possessions and body image, we are slowly being brain-washed and our expectations are changing to one of ‘well everyone else has one of those, maybe I need one too!’.

And Bingo! The driving force of consumerism in a nutshell.

And this is also why so many people fall into those ‘get-rich-quick’ scams – they think they need to earn more money so they can buy more material things.

Don’t get me wrong – media also has a valuable role in education, information, news and advertising of ‘important’ services such as health insurance. But these high value services are intermingled with advertisements for stuff we really don’t need [do you REALLY need another ring tone for your mobile] and it is hard to distinguish the difference, so we think it’s ALL important and in fact ‘normal’.

And don’t forget that 25 years ago we didn’t have mobile phones, iPods or home theatres – and we were quite happy! You don’t need material possessions to survive or even to be happy.

So set healthy financial goals and be happy - and yes, you can have both!

Attitude to Life

The media also has a large influence on our attitude and general life outlook. The power of positive thinking is huge in being able to achieve and be happy. Negative thinking is just as powerful, but in the wrong way.

Humans are funny things – we are capable of great compassion and understanding, but we all have a negative side where secretly we ‘like’ seeing people ‘fail’. The media knows this too, which is why you can always find stories on the latest falling star in Hollywood, and it’s also why the media regularly contain articles with negative undertones, or hinting at conspiracy theories, or self-righteous voyeurism.

Again, if we’re constantly bombarded with negative stories and thoughts then – you guessed it – our attitude changes to one of negativity and defeat. No wonder it seems like a struggle to get anywhere.

Try this for a week and see how it affects your mood [remember your mood is purely driven by your thoughts]:

  • Whenever a negative story or story about consumerism appears on TV or in a newspaper – turn it off, or don’t read it.
  • If you find a positive good-news story or article – dive in!
  • Have a back-up of good-feel movies or books if it’s just too hard to avoid the negative ones.
  • Whenever someone wants to engage in negative gossip or conversation, change the topic (particularly if it’s idle gossip about someone’s personal life) and look for the silver lining – talk about this instead. Of course, if you have to deal with negative problems and issues then do so, but try to handle these as constructively and positively as you can.
  • Actively engage in positive conversation. Surround yourself with positive, optimistic colleagues and friends and stay away from those ‘negative Nellies’ that we all know.
  • Pay someone a genuine compliment.

If you follow this regime, I can guarantee you that you will feel far more positive about life and yourself [and happy], and will feel motivated and energised – the power of positive thinking is amazing!

Of course, you can also try the opposite of the above and see how depressed you feel…

What’s really important?

So this all begs the question – what’s really important?

Think back through your life and identify some happy events and memories. Most probably these events involve family, friends or self achievement – and not when you bought your new luxury car or replaced your 1 year old [dated] mobile.

Similarly with sad events in your life – a death of a family member, divorce or similar, and not when you lost your Louis Voutton luggage.

What does this mean? It means that despite our consumer behaviour, what really matters in life are human values. Human values recognise that:

  • The simple pleasures of spending quality time with your kids, family and friends can bring far more happiness than any amount of money, material possession or other consumerism.
  • Respect for others, personal honour and integrity are measures of a real person - not weight, dress size and girth.
  • Success is measured in the feeling of ‘satisfaction’ and happiness, not dollars or job title.
  • A ‘home’ is more important than a house.
  • ‘Communicating’ is more important than your phone’s ‘style’ or ring tone.
  • Being able to drive safely from A to B is more important than the 12-decker CD player and engine power.
  • Looking good for self-confidence and being healthy is more important than vanity.
  • Wearing comfortable clothes and accessories that you like and need, is more important than who designed them.

And it is important that we don’t lose sight of this. Don’t get sucked in by all the media hype and fall into the culture of consumerism – you will only end up being unhappy with your meaningless life.

The one thing we all have in common is that one day, we’ll die. And when you are on you death bed, I can guarantee you that your final thoughts will be with your closest family and friends and you won’t give a damn about any wealth you’ve accumulated or how big your house was.

So make your life count so that when you look back on it from your deathbed, you don’t regret what you’ve done but can be proud of it instead because you’ve done what really matters.

Think about what you want on your tombstone and in your obituary – and live this life.

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