Consumption today is one of the most commonly used measures of prosperity.
What we measure reflects what we value. And what we currently value globally is GDP (Gross Domestic Product): a measurement of consumption and exchange of goods and services based exclusively on money.
But how is it that our definition of wealth and well-being is so strongly coiled around revenue and material acquisition despite the current scenery of defaulting financial systems, gross global injustice and wide-scale environmental demolition?
According to Srinivas (2011) “the higher the level of consumption, the higher the expected quality of life”. Money “Can’t Buy You Love” yet we attempt to consume our way into happiness and wellbeing: we attribute any hoped-for-feelings of power, pride or safety to the objects that we pull out from depths of the organic polymers of plastic wrapping. We consume (and overconsume) to fill emotional voids in our lives, to make social statements about ourselves and to make sure we maintain a certain status in the neighborhood.
A growing problem is that the 21st century consumer doesn’t only consume to keep up with the dude down the street but, as some trends suggest, also makes comparisons to those whose incomes are substantially higher than their own. And the neighbors that are used as benchmarks might not be the ones across the road, but those across the ocean. Along with the growing population and prosperity in different parts of the globe, particularly in the East, there is a steadily growing pool of consumers with substantial disposable income for unrestricted spending…and strong aspirations to consume like their overseas neighbors.
Does this mean our terrestrial balance dangles on the likelihood of John Smith changing his choice (in the name of sustainable consumption) of buying a huge SUV to getting something more fuel efficient so that his new Indian neighbor can also get a car?
But wait – too much chocolate makes you sick!
“Consumption that gives immediate pleasure may prove deleterious to lasting well-being. Individuals who covet income and possessions tend to be less happy and have lower self-esteem, more anxiety, and poorer social relationships.” [Quelch and Jocz, 2007]
If consumption becomes just the purchase and the possession of objects rather than the actual use/genuine consumption of them, we’re missing the big picture and getting business-class to our own grave. In order for consumption to make more sense, we should not only give more consideration to what we’re buying, but also to the people and practices behind each good or service.
Only when the act of consuming and the goods consumed become more meaningful and more mindful does including them in our metrics of wellbeing make more sense.
It’s about rethinking the items we produce, buy and worship in our current consumption-driven societies. It’s about recycling mindless (over)consumption. It’s about replacing the endless accumulation of “stuff” with more substantive intangibles. It’s about John Smith sharing a car with Raj Singh.
So yes, I’d like a parcel of well-being and dollop of good laughs– RIGHTSIZED, thanks. I’ll share it with my neighbor.