Or more specifically, how much stuff is enough? Is the answer less stuff and more gratitude? We are conditioned to always want more. To keep searching for that elusive missing piece. And then we find it but still feel empty? Then what? What is the answer? MORE. Keep running the race. Keep chasing shadows. Pursuing the contentment that has been promised by the marketers. Always searching, never finding. But if enough is never enough, then where does it end? Will we ever achieve a level of fulfilment if we cannot take stock? Or will life be one long pursuit? One long struggle to achieve “something” but using the wrong avenue to achieve it?
The pressure to identify through items starts at an early age. A colleague was recently ruminating over which mobile phone to buy their six-year-old daughter. “An iPhone may give her the wrong perception of life but if her friends have Apple then she may be bullied if I get her Android.” was the thinking. A crazy notion that children of that age already have brand loyalty. The same mechanisms existed when I was a teenager but not at six. I recall getting some stick over a pair of Hi-tech trainers. My friends were wearing Nikes. Unbeknown to me at that time, their parent had bought them out of the catalogue and was paying them off on the weekly. The mechanisms of debt for acceptance had already been embedded. The borrowing of money to appear rich is pure insanity. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “debt exposes a man to confinement, and a species of slavery to his creditors.” But the fear of ostracization without the products fuels the consumption that keeps us trapped. But who are we really fooling? And is there any benefit in doing so? Ultimately how much is enough?
Greed is a little more than enoughToba Beta, My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut
We have been conned. Whilst walking down the street we see a new car driving along. Our initial response is “Well they must be doing alright for themselves.” This may be true but in 2019 “91% of new cars were on finance.” There is nothing wrong with wanting nice things but in the UK large numbers of people are experiencing financial stress. What do people believe would help them alleviate this stress? MORE. If they just earned more then they would be okay. RUBBISH. Maybe for some on low wages. Children are expensive and rents can be high after all. But the issue for a large number of people isn’t needing more. It is spending less. Are we really so insecure that we are killing ourselves for acceptance? I know it’s not that easy just to cut back. I am a recovering alcoholic after all. I understand the machinations of excess. I also understand that it never made me happy beyond the immediate moment. It was fleeting. Alcohol, like so many things, promises more than it delivers. And the promise of positive outcomes, ie happiness/pleasure is enough to get our juices flowing; “The anticipation is better than the pleasure. Researchers have found that the nucleus accumbens respond much more to the prospect of reward than to the reward itself. Further, it is all the same to the nuclei accumbens, which respond nearly identically to the prospect of food, sex, social contact, cocaine, or financial gain.” We are our own enemy. We believe the false promises and ignore the evidence that it isn’t working.
We believe that more money will solve our current problem but the change of jobs or last pay rise didn’t seem to change anything. If we don’t learn to “cut our cloth to suit” we will always be chasing the elusive more. But what if the answer is less? What if we take stock of our lot and look at where we sit on the ladder. Earlier, I mentioned a colleague deliberating over a very first world problem. When put against the fact the 16% of the world’s population don’t have electricity. 785 million people don’t have clean water. Yet, embedded in an early age we have an arrogance that all our whims should be met. And does it make us happy? Nope. Enough never seems to be enough.
How much destruction is worth progress? How many dead ends do we have to run down before realising that the path to happiness doesn’t lay there? The needs of humans are simple.
There have been positives to the pursuit of more. Health, hygiene, medical, technological advancements but does the pursuit of an ever-growing economy translate to increased happiness. Just because the pursuit of progress works in one area of life does it mean that it automatically works in another? Infinite growth and consumption are not possible on a planet with finite resources. But we are too far down the track to turn back. “More” is the answer to escape the problems it is creating. By escaping we are becoming detached from our roots. The technology we use daily is astounding. Yet pales against a true night sky. The infinite laid bare daring to be questioned. A sunset that flutters even the hardest of hearts. The simplicity of a cool breeze reminds our fragile ego that we are but a small part of the greater. It’s hard to accept. That amongst the progress there is only escape. We are running from the fear that without the identity of the external, the infinite would consume us. The expanse is overwhelming. But to realise the beauty of it all we have to pause. Take a breath and look around. Take in the machinations that are beyond our control. They are large. In the security we desperately cling to there is chaos. Everchanging. Relentless. But there is contentment and appreciation.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated,” said Confucius. Is it fear that does this? Or perception? That with nothing we are nothing. That to exist we have to own. To have value we have to demonstrate that value through bought identity. We as consumers drive the market. We can create any world we want to live in. Most of life as we know it is a creation of our own making. We create the games then become snared by them. What is the ideal human experience? A recurring theme I’ve seen in the few places I’ve been lucky enough to visit is community. A connection and purpose with value. Most liked to laugh and feel secure. Not only in their environment but also within themselves. Society. Collaboration. Working towards a greater goal that benefits others and the self. In the west, we have been fragmented. Turned into competitors. Divided and conquered. Fragmented yet looking for a missing piece. The piece is all around. We just look in the wrong places.
Is it happiness we are seeking or is it the escape from unhappiness?
If we take the time to think why are we doing the things we do. Are we working a lot of hours in a job we hate to buy things to make us happy? Are we in a situation that we cannot change and feel resentful about it? Instead of comparing our situation with others. Which in itself is a form of self-harm. We should be looking at the things we have that we enjoy. Embracing the time we have. Identifying the things we can improve if need be and working towards them. Instead of trying to be happy. Or trying to buy happiness. We should try to be; present, reflective, grateful, understanding, comfortable with ourselves. Improving the way we look at our world and ourselves can go a long way to calm the pursuit of happiness through material means.
Take travel, for example, it was a fire that burned within me. I HAD to see the places I’d dreamt of. And when I had, the urge was no longer there. I understand that travel can be addictive but at what point does it become another THING? When the experiences are lost in the numbers of places visited? When the reason for doing something or visiting somewhere has been replaced by a lack of knowing what else to do? Some people genuinely love that lifestyle. Some people genuinely love shopping. Kudos. But how many of us are doing the things we do because we lack an alternative? How many already have enough but are lost in the pursuit of “something” that they can’t see they have already? How much debt, obesity and environmental destruction do we have to have before we finally admit that enough is actually enough? Maybe then we can accept that things have to change? Maybe then it will be too late.
Thanks for reading,
Don’t forget to share, follow and check out some other blogs 🙂