Merriam-Webster dictionary defines consumerism as the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable. A preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods.
From a very young age, we are all taught that consumption is normal. Buy, buy, buy. If you are happy, buy yourself something. You are sad? Buy something and you will feel better. If you love and care for someone, buy them a thing. Or experience. If you got promoted, celebrate with a big purchase. When you finish school or college, buy a car. Buy, buy, buy. We all consume without thinking. It’s considered normal. If we don’t spend money, then why do we go to work and earn it? One might say: “Why then money even exists?”
In today’s world, we are all predetermined for consumption, and consuming is almost as normal as breathing. Everybody is doing it, right? So why shouldn’t we? No one even notices that there is a problem. Well, the problem is not with consumption, because we all need something to survive. The problem is when we consume more than is needed. When we’re going into debt just to buy a new thing or two. You are in love, so you’re expected to buy many gifts for your loved one. We forgot how to show love to others without including some sort of monetary transaction.
Our entire society is based on consumerism and materialism. Goods and services are acquired without thinking, not only to meet our basic needs but also to show our worth to others and secure our identity and meaning. People think they can convey their significance by buying new material purchases. If I buy a new car, my friends will want to hang up more with me. The latest phone will surely bring more precious memories to me when I take all those pictures and videos with my friends. If we buy a house in this part of the city, we can have new friends. A good education will give our kids an opportunity to be richer and better than us – so they can buy whatever they want and show that they are worthier than others.
People constantly compare themselves with everybody around them, and consumerism is the perfect tool for that. But since meaning and self-worth cannot be found in it, nor can basic psychological needs be met with it, consumers remain unfulfilled and are driven to buy even more. And with all that spending, they need to earn even more money – which requires even more precious hours to be spent on the pursuit of happiness. Richard Layard refers to the ‘hedonic treadmill’ to describe the phenomenon where people become so used to their additional incomes and their new toys that they need to be in a constant money-making state.
We all chase the next big thing, the next purchase, which will bring us closer to happiness. If I buy a new car, I will be happy. And you are. But for so long? A day, a week, a month? And then you get used to it, and your mood tends to revert to where it was before. Only by then, you’re most probably in a worse financial situation than before, or even in debt, and you realize that this new car didn’t bring you happiness in the end. Advertisers understand this and encourage us to ‘feed our addiction’ with more and more and more consumption. And then the vicious circle continues. A rat race, as Robert Kiyosaki would say.
I think it’s about time to break the chains of consumerism and finally be free.
Here are some ways to: do that:
No matter how small and unimportant it may seem (every penny counts). If you absolutely need to buy it, ask some hard questions first:
Not counting necessities such as food and hygiene products.
Like the plague. Seriously.
Watch less TV, block ads on the web, don’t carry your phone with you wherever you go, and so on.
Put the thing you want on the list and then wait a certain number of days before you make a purchase. Use these days to apply principle 1 — most times you won’t buy it.
P.S.: 30 days is best for larger purchases, and 5 days for smaller ones, but you can choose your own number.
Cheap turns out to be the costliest of all. My grandma always used to say: “I am not rich enough to buy cheap.”
Consider borrowing or making it yourself. Buy used if you can’t find other options.
Learn to be content with life as it is, rather than wanting to buy things to make it better. You are not the sum of your possessions. You are much more than them.
If you are absolutely sure you need it, by all means, buy it. I’m not a cop who will say what you need or don’t need. But please be mindful of every purchase and remember that every penny you trade for some material thing means you’re trading the only non-renewable resource you possess – your time.
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