“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
– Henry David Thoreau
What is the root of today’s problems? I believe the root lies in how we define, measure and pursue success. Today’s dominant success model, one based on perpetual growth, money, celebrity status, power, individualism, materialism and conspicuous consumption, is at odds with genuine happiness, well-being and the quality and sustainability of life.
Under this false success model, many people believe that happiness is achieved through conspicuous consumption and accumulation of material wealth. Through this worldview, people define and measure their well-being and quality of life by how much they have, especially relative to their friends, neighbors and even ultra-rich celebrities. While superficially attractive, addictive and appealing in the short-term, the consumer-based success model often smothers us with stuff, saps our time and diverts our attention from meaningful, life-enhancing activities while masking its negative economic, ecological and social impacts.
This false success model is, in fact, a cruel joke in at least three ways:
First, it does not deliver its promise of joy, inner peace and fulfillment. It cannot since these needs can only be fulfilled from within and consumerism is based on superficial, transitory pleasures and external material accumulation.
Second, by design, you can never be satisfied. With the veil of consumerism, you always tend to want more since marketing forces, through media, fashion, and cultural peer pressure, create unquenchable desires that disguise manufactured “wants” as genuine needs.
Third, since many people attach their identity and self-worth to the conspicuous consumption game, there are legions of unsatisfied, debt-strapped people who are unknowingly digging themselves deeper into trouble through their uncontrolled, spontaneous buying and spending. They often try to escape their self-imposed servitude and depression by spending yet more money on exotic vacations or get-a-ways to quaint villages that give temporary relief from their unfulfilling, rat-race lives. The euphoria ends when the bills come due. Many get depressed about their inability to keep up with other consumers and their addictive, want-spend-debt lifestyle that saps time, attention and resources away from things that really do matter – like love, happiness, relationships, well-being and personal fulfillment.