For decades, we have been told that if we only had that coolest, newest car/phone/pair of shoes/you-name-it, we would be happy. But as soon as we get that newest thing that was guaranteed to make us happy, we are told that a new something has just come out and we will never be happy unless we get it… This is how we invented consumerism.
In recent years, a new trend has surfaced. It’s called “lowsumerism,” advocating buying only what we really need and being conscious of the impact of our purchases on the planet.
But avoiding over shopping won’t make us any happier. So instead of asking, “How can we stop overconsuming?” we should ask, “Why are we overconsuming in the first place?”
Psychologists, Brickman and Campbell, coined the term “Hedonic Relativism” to roughly describe our propensity to consume perpetually. Nowadays we call it what it is, “Hedonic Treadmill.” But observing a phenomenon and naming it do not explain its cause. To understand why we are so prone to it we have to understand human nature and the course of its development.
Like all other elements in reality, we, humans, consist of positive and negative elements. Inhaling and exhaling allows for breathing, and the heart’s pumping in and pushing out of blood allows for circulation. Without them we would die. Likewise, male and female complement one another so as to allow the continuation of our species, and children’s rest-play cycle allows them to grow up healthy.
On all levels of reality, this balance between the negative and positive is maintained, except for one part of the system—the level of human desires. In my book, Self-Interest vs. Altruism in the Global Era: how society can turn self-interests into mutual benefit, which I published five years ago, I showed how human desires are evolving in such a way that the negative element is taking over and causes us to skid off balance, into a mode that is destroying our planet, our society, and ultimately ourselves. The over-amplification of the negative elements in our desires manifests in excessive self-centeredness, alienation, coupled with a desire to exploit others for personal gain.
The problem is that our natural instinct to stop when we have had enough is overtaken by our need to outdo others—be smarter, stronger, prettier, wealthier, and so on. The more “ers” we can attach to egos, the better we feel about ourselves. Consequently, nothing about us is balanced. And because we are permanently out of balance, we are in constant (though usually unconscious) anxiety, to the point that we confuse relief (from anxiety) with happiness.
But there is a reason why we cannot balance our desires like the rest of nature. We overconsume because we feel disconnected from each other, when in fact we are connected in a web of thoughts and desires that dictates who we are at almost every level. And yet, only if we rise above our self-centeredness we will be able to experience this level of connection positively.
Since we cannot rise above this connectedness, we hate it and resist it in various ways. The more subdued and introvert among us tend to shy away from society and isolate themselves. When they cannot be happy they often sink into depression and escape through drug and alcohol abuse, or even become suicidal. The less inhibited among us take the opposite route, and might express their broken connections to people in violent and aggressive manners.
Take ISIS, for example. There are many devout Muslims who do not become violent. They maintain a strict way of life according their faith, but do not try to force it on others or punish anyone who lives differently.
The Brussels terrorist attacks from March 22 are the opposite example. Beyond the Islamist ideology, it is an outburst of human hatred that has become homicidal misanthropy. Compared to such outbursts, overconsumption seems like a piece of cake to handle. Yet, all these problems stem from the same root: our inability to balance the negative with the positive within us.
We need only watch the news to know that we have reached a tipping point, where we must get a grip on ourselves, on our very nature, and restore the balance. To do that, we must learn to connect in a positive way.
We can educate ourselves into awareness of how our interconnectedness benefits us. Instead of trying to impose lowsumerism on ourselves, we simply learn how to use our desires for the common good. And since we love to be unique, our uniqueness will enrich our communities, societies, and the world we live in. Instead of taking, taking, taking, we will be giving, giving, giving. Yet because it will be the general mode of conduct in society, we will end up receiving infinitely more than we could ever give to ourselves.
In a society where everyone contributes, we will have much more than material abundance. We will enjoy emotional satisfaction from being able to express ourselves creatively, and mental strength and vigor from the constant positive feedback we will get from our social environment.
We have no time to waste. The global society is on the brink of collapse. We, the people, can change it into Heaven, or we can let it become Hell. The choice is ours, and we must make it now.
Featured in Huffington Post