I often ask myself if happiness is really a result of consumerism as society has made us believe. We live in a world that associates spending with coolness and if you’re uncool then you’re obviously unhappy, right?
People work in jobs that they despise in order to earn money that they will spend on things that are trending, such as designer handbags that have a lifespan of a dragonfly (less than 6 months). The funny thing is that you find yourself planning your next shopping spree in the midst of the current one. It’s as if you’ve unleashed a monster that keeps growing with hunger, the more you feed it! So, if consuming more really makes us happy then why is it that we become more insecure the more we spend?
More importantly, it has become second nature for us to associate the enjoyment of life with the purchase of goods and services rather than simply having worthy real life experiences. It is a strong statement when the largest shopping mall in the world and the most visited building on the planet in 2011 (Dubai Mall) chooses to display signage that suggests that there is a direct link between the act of shopping and enjoying life, as seen in the following images.
Images displayed at the main atrium of the Dubai Mall, Dubai UAE. (Oct 2016)
Branding has always been a crucial element on the streets of major cities such as London, but it has now reached an all-time peak with the spread of cities such as Dubai and Singapore that are built on these notions. With the rise in global mobility according to the UN’s population division, there has been a high rate of expat influx to financial hubs that thrive on the idealistic notion of spending.
Economic studies at Yale University suggest that there is a correlation between the happiness of a nation and its GDP. Also, DISMAL scientists claim that beyond a GDP per capita ($15,000), money does not buy happiness. This strong correlation disappears soon after. On the other hand, recent findings by the World Health Organization World Mental Health Survey Initiative led by Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School suggests that the highest rates of depression are seen in nations with the highest incomes. The only rational explanation to this is that residents of these countries with high GDPs are not worried by the basic life necessities that their less fortunate counterparts suffer from, however the rise in spending and competitive lifestyles in these countries brings to light other psychological issues, such as dissatisfaction.
The idealistic vision and common misconception that happiness is a result of consumerism has become a way of thinking for many and tends to skew emotional decisions. Consumerism often leads to Materialism and as a result, many find themselves falling in the arms of those whom they have no real connection with simply because of ‘illusions of grandeur’. They envision that happiness lies in the more expensive things that life has to offer, and become enslaved by the search for happiness and coolness. A recent study by Brigham Young University and William Paterson University suggests that such behaviors lead to discontinued relationships and broken marriages.
Furthermore, recent studies by the Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen shows that people who highly value wealth, status and material things tend to be more depressed, anxious and less social than their counterparts. It also suggests that materialism is no longer a personal problem, but it is becoming an environmental problem.
It’s a vicious cycle that leaves us less content than where we started off, which is probably the reason why we aren’t feeling as enough as a buddhist monk living in a tiny cottage somewhere in the Himalayas..
*Cover image artwork by Malaysian contemporary artist Azad Daniel Haris as part of his ‘Space Invaders’ exhibition representing Consumerism