Stop Spending Money: How Consumerism Takes Its Toll on Our Happiness

| 4/22/2011 10:03:38 AM

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There’s no doubt that the U.S. culture is famous for its promises of happiness. As age-old as the idea of the “American dream” is the idea that working hard anHappy Man Smiling In The Grassd making money to create the life you want will lead you to happiness and bliss. It’s made painfully obvious in movies, TV shows, billboards and ads everyday: The best way to find happiness today, at this moment, is to buy it; whether it be a new shirt, a new car or a candy bar. As the level of affluence in the U.S. has grown, it would seem logical to assume that our level of happiness has also risen, but in reality, our general sense of satisfaction with our lives has been on the decline since the '50s.  

This disturbing truth is behind the creation of a new film by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick and John Page, entitled The Economics of Happiness. Through firsthand experience watching isolated communities become a part of globalization, via industrial agriculture, plastics, etc., the filmmakers have compiled evidence to show that our consumer culture has played a huge role in our loss of general happiness. Before this “Western modernization,” traditional communities had more leisure time, participated in work and labor that had a visible, meaningful impact in their lives, and relied on neighbors and community members for help when it was needed. Economic globalization replaced these qualities with conflict, financial instability, and the idea that nothing was ever quite good enough. 

In order to work to repair the environmental and social damages brought on by unfair trade agreements and neocolonialism — as well as to restore our own sense of satisfaction in the global North — economic localization is key. As described by the filmmakers, 

The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, government and big business continue to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, all around the world people are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance — and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm — an economics of localization.” 

So it turns out getting to know your neighbor, heading to your local farmers market, and taking a stroll outside instead of a drive in a new car doesn’t just impact the environment and build stronger communities — both worthy goals in themselves. It will also make you smile.  

A copy of this film was provided to us thorough a local branch of Films for Action, an organization dedicated to the development of community through the creation of alternative media channels to inform, connect, and inspire local action.  

charlie muller
3/5/2012 4:28:58 PM

To me it's not just consumerism it's the human nature of GREED and overstimulation that is taking over most of us in the industrialized societies. There is just so much "stuff" and choices whether it be cell phones styles, LED TVs, video games, TV channels. It has just made life so stressfull and spins my head around. I enjoyed growing up in the simple 70s when all we had was 4 tv channels, simple games of tag, hide and go seek, rotary dialing phones, much more time with your family and neighbors. All I had to play with was a bat, glove, and a ball. Materialism and Technology which stimulates the human nature of greed is ruining society!

3/5/2012 3:24:25 PM

I found this interesting because I and several other women were talking about how our grandmothers had a lot more time for friends and family than most modern women do. (Brief moment before they had to go charging off to do errands.) At one time you didn't worry about keeping up with the Jones and just lived your life. I still do and don't care that I don't have the latest and greatest but apparently in this society now it makes me a bad person. If I am not in debt up to my ears or over my head I am not doing my bit for the economy. This whole consume until you drop society is destroying lives and health and I watch it every day. If this is such a great way to live why are there so many drunks and drug addicts. And I am not talking about the poor parts of town I am talking about middle class nice brick houses with well kept lawns. If their lives are so great why do they need to get drunk every night or take drugs? It is because they are not happy, if they were I would not see them staggering around cursing at their families and creating huge scenes. Not everyone is like this some just feel isolated and stay to themselves. How do I know this? Because I observe and ask questions. From everything I have seen and talked to others about they are NOT happy. When I say maybe they don't need so many things or the newest car in the neighborhood they just don't seem to get it. That's not the way things are done. They can't seem to remember a time when it wasn't consume to the nth degree. Much like jimhenry, I'll bet he has to have the best no matter what the cost. I don't think it is worth it and live a simpler life so I actually have one.

5/26/2011 11:25:49 AM

I have no problem with AMERICAN exceptionalism, jimhenry! The point is this we are no longer AMERICAN we are GLOBAL ECONOMY. And for us to build up our economy with a stronger base during this fiduciary disaster we need to re orient ourselves locally, become AMERICAN producers and consumers that only "buy American Made". To me the only way you can do that is to start in small locals, with your farmer that grows your tomatoes down the road instead of in Guatemala or Mexico. Jeez. I think you need to pay better attention when you read an article. This one seemed to go right over your head.

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