Beyond Consumer Culture

[P]sychological evidence suggests that is is close relationships, a meaningful life, economic security, and health that contribute most to well-being. While there are marked improvements in happiness when people at low levels of income earn more (as their economic security improves and their range of opportunities grows), as incomes increase this extra earning power converts less effectively into increased happiness. In part, this may stem from people’s tendency to habituate to the consumption level they are exposed to. Goods that were once perceived as luxuries can over time be seen as entitlements or event necessities.

By the 1960s, for instance, the Japanese already viewed a fan, a washingmachine, and electric rice cookers as essential goods for a satisfactory living standard. In due course, a car, an air conditioner, and a color television were added to the list of “essentials.” And in the United States, 83 percent of people saw clothes dryers as a necessity in 2006. Even products around only a short time quickly become viewed as necessities. Half of Americans now think they must have a mobile phone, and one third of them see a high-speed Internet connection as essential.

Emphasis mine. From the State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures. They also have a nice, WordPress-powered blog. (A necessity.) You can see the context of the quote in Google Books.

14 thoughts on “Beyond Consumer Culture

  1. I was just reading a similar passage last night in Raj Patel’s “The Value of Nothing”:

    I’d recommend the book to anyone who finds himself questioning our society’s perverse sanctity of consumerism and the general craziness of a self-extincting industrial society.

    It’s impossible to be happy while engaging in constant material pursuit. It’s obviously much more fulfilling to find joy in what you already have or even what you haven’t. Of course, that’s much less profitable for corporations, and they are willing to spend billions of dollars to wreck enlightened thinking so they can prey on your weakened self-esteem.


  2. Matt — thanks for the excerpt and links. The quote is so true — myself and my partner are trying to learn to live “off the grid”, and it’s amazing how dependent we are on things we don’t need. We are regularly discovering things that we can stop buying, and do without, make ourselves, or find a substitute for.

    I’ve heard Worldwatch mentioned, but I’ve never taken the time to look them up. Their site looks like a treasure trove. Looks like there is going to be plenty of excellent reading on there.


  3. Internet connectivity in any capacity would be essential at this point. Too much is being digitized and too much information is finding its way to online sources that it would be foolish to be without access to a computer plugged into the net.

  4. When I was using other content management systems, I was happy I could publish myself on the Web and somehow take care of my content fairly easily. But now that I have WordPress, I find myself wanting more–! Arrgghh.. 😀

  5. This made me think of a quote by Bertrand Russell….

    “Very many people spend money in ways quite different from those that their natural tastes would enjoin, merely because the respect of their neighbors depends upon their possession of a good car and their ability to give good dinners. As a matter of fact, any man who can obviously afford a car but genuinely prefers travels or a good library will in the end be much more respected than if he behaved exactly like everyone else.”
    – Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

  6. I would live in a ten times cheaper house or apartment, have no cable, and dry my clothes outside if it meant I could still have high speed internet.

  7. I was completely puzzled last week when a client told me ” We are going to have to pass on the house since it does not have a media room”

    Granite countertops, stainless steel appliances etc are becoming the norm.

    I enjoy traveling to third world countries where you notice people live with very basic standards and they are very happy individuals….:) Some villagers have to wake up and walk a solid hour just to bring water for the day to their household…..

    🙂 🙂

  8. Concentrating too closely on how increasing material possessions does not increase happiness misses the other more important assertions in that quote– “close relationships, a meaningful life, economic security, and health … contribute most to well-being.”

  9. Seeing how most jobs postings are online, internet is almost a necessity just like the phone is, because employers kind of expect you to have it, well most anyway.

  10. I fall in love all over again, every time I use my electric water dispenser (it heats water for tea and such). That and my internet access is a daily reminder that I live in the future, and it gives me the focus to work on helping others.

    Seriously, I frickin’ love that water dispenser! ^_^

  11. Recently read an article in Good Housekeeping magazine (September 2009) and was struck by the following thought: “While we’d once spent lazy afternoons reading in the park, we now spent them shuffling through stores in search of that spiffy new stereo (you know, the one that plays five CD’s instead of three) or stylish coffee table to replace the nicked up wooden one. When we weren’t acquiring these treasures, we were working to afford, maintain and re-arrange them- and , ultimately, shuffle them off to Goodwill or storage.” Kim Croft Miller

    It resonated with me, anybody else?