Consumerism & Altruism
Many nations' material standard of living is now higher than ever. Production of material things has skyrocketed – but is still a way behind consumption, and further still behind demand. Does consumerism make people happier?
The citizens of the so-called 'developed nations' consume more products,
live in bigger houses, use more consumer durables than those of the rest of the world.
They have a higher material standard of living. However, social indicators such as family structure,
suicide and crime levels tell a different story. Family breakdown, stress, loneliness and
are much higher in the ‘developed’ countries. This is both a result of and a cause of increased economic activity,
for many reasons. One of the main ones is that depressed people are encouraged to cheer themselves up by consuming.
In the past recreation was spent mainly in non-consumptive activities, such as
appreciating nature or visiting
friends, but this is harder in a deterioriating social and natural
Isolation is reinforced by industries that have sprung up to encourage
indulgence in selfish consumption - whether of food, drugs, digital culture or other means of
A paradox of our system of
is that although this tendency is disasterous for the individuals concerned it
is great for economic 'progress'.
In extreme cases such as suicide, such pathological consumption may harm rather help the economy.
However, although such counterproductive consumption constitutes a downward spiral for the individuals involved,
it represents a virtuous cycle for the economy, which benefits from increased levels of consumption
and hence work from those concerned. Shopping is the USA’s most popular recreational activity.
Altruistic actions (almost by definition) boost well-being and happiness and so decrease
and the associated habits of pathological consumption. Moreover, activity done out of love is often
given away and so is part of the unseen economy, substituting for regular
spending and reducing the size of the official economy.
Obesity is an obvious symptom of over-consumption. By 2000, two thirds of Americans were
overweight1 - a proportion which is still rising.
One can only speculate how this affects the self-esteem of those affected,
in this world in which millions of people are literally starving.
Overeating is widely known to be unhealthy, so one can see the obesity epidemic
as evidence of how adept large organisations (i.e. companies) have become at
manipulating individuals against their long term interests.
Self-destructive overconsumption applies to many aspects of society,
especially in 'developed' countries. In USA, most people devote
hours every day consuming digital culture
while families no longer spend time together in conversation2.
Many countries are following this model, in spite of the unprecedented
damage to family and community life3.
Organisations exploit the vulnerable by encouraging them to see themselves
as consumers. This has lead to negative
social cycles of selfish over-consumption, followed by
depression and further stress.
Adopting an attitude of
altruism is a positive way to resist consumerism.
relationships with others helps people feel positive about themselves
|Downloads||Title||Author(s)|| Date ||Reference|
| The Burden of Materialism|| Tim Madigan|| 2004-03-17||Star-Telegram WWW |
| Experts look for happiness in a buy-and-sell world|| Tim Madigan|| 2004-04-19||Fort Worth Star-Telegram |
| Are You Happy?|| ||Enough |
| Native American Perspectives on Generosity|| Martin Brokenleg|
| Spiritual Progress and Spiritual Wealth|| Chris Thompson|| 2005-02-27|
| COS1: Happiness Machines|| Adam Curtis|| 2002-04-29||BBC The Century of Self 1|
| COS2: The Engineering of Consent|| Adam Curtis|| 2002-04-30||BBC The Century of Self 2|
| COS3: There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed|| Adam Curtis|| 2002-05-01||BBC The Century of Self 3|
| COS4: Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering|| Adam Curtis|| 2002-05-02||BBC The Century of Self 4|
 64.5% according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2000
 National time diary surveys conducted in 1997 by the Survey Research Center, University of Michigan
 In 2000, a YMCA poll of a representative sample of American teens found
"Not having enough time together with parents" to be their top anxiety, named by 21% of those