Do possessions make us happy? Most of us would reply when asked is possessions are not a cause of happiness. What then causes true happiness? Happiness is having and spending quality time with family and friends. Many of us, whether because of religion or personal experience believe this, yet we continue a tradition that is opposite to this fundamental belief. We are in a vicious cycle of ever increasing our stuff which means working long hours, and numerous jobs in order to acquire enough money to ever increase our possessions by shopping. In the past we owned our stuff, today our stuff owns us and our quest for more stuff is taking away from the things that lead to deeper happiness.
During WWII nearly every American who wanted to work, did. Because of nearly universal employment people for the first time in years (remember the Great Depression was just ending) finally had stable employment and money to spend. The only problem was that during the war many of the items that people wanted to buy, they were unable to. Factories that would normally produce vehicles to drive, during the war were making tanks, factories that would later make washing machines, made ammunition. After the war Americans went spending crazy! Today we are still in this spend-fest. In fact our own government recognized that one way to continue to increase the capabilities of our economy was to increase consumption. Victor Lebow said,
“Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate.”
Since then we have been tricked into a cycle of consumption. In the 50’s industrialists were afraid once Americans bought their new appliances they wouldn’t need to buy any more and because of this these same men began to design stuff that would not last. We can think of many examples of our stuff not lasting anything from a fridge to cell phone (today an average cell phone might last a year or two, when I first started working in the cell phone industry it was common for phones to last well over 5 years.) these same people alsoor would be out of style in a matter of a couple years. This idea is known as obsolescence. Worldwide, from the 1950s to the 1990s, per capita consumption of timber, steel, copper, meat, and energy doubled. Per capita aluminum consumption has increased sevenfold. Consumption of synthetic items drawn from natural resources has increased as well: per capita cement consumption has quadrupled, use of plastic quintupled.
Today “The average American consumes about fifty-three times more goods and services than someone from China. The United States contains 5 percent of the world's population but accounts for 22 percent of fossil fuel consumption, 24 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and 33 percent of paper and plastic use. A child born in the United States will create thirteen times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil. He or she will drain as many resources as thirty-five natives of India. In fact, comparing statistics on actual resource use as opposed to population numbers has led some to suggest that the most overpopulated country on earth -in terms of impact- is the United States.”
And unfortunately the world is quickly following the American dream and imitating our consumption patterns. “The world's "middle class"-the roughly three-fifths of world population between the consumer class and the world's poorest citizens-understandably have their sights set on a higher standard of living. From afar, they are pursuing the American Dream with gusto. All over the world, people surf the Internet, watch American TV shows, read American magazines, and are exposed to American advertising. For these people, "development" means more than just electricity, telephones, and running water. It has come to mean having what Americans have: large living quarters, multiple cars, appliances, cable television, stereos, and other luxuries.”
And today are we any happier than 50 years ago? Do we have less debt? How about the earth, is the earth better off? The answer to all these questions Is no! Since 1950 GDP has grown 550 % But we are not any happier. Measurements of increased happiness have increased just about 0 and some polls even indicate has declined.
What about debt? Today 43% of Americans spend more than they make. The average American has $8000 in credit card debt. Bankruptcy has doubled in the last decade(this study was before the current economic recession). American consumers owe nearly 2 trillion dollars not including mortgage debt(house payment) Its pretty obvious that we spend money to make us feel better about ourselves. We shop because buying stuff gives us a drug like feeling the problem is we now owe more than ever.
Perhaps more than anything else the environment has suffered because of over consumption.
“For the first time in history, humanity must face the risk of unintentionally destroying the foundations of life on Earth. The global scientific consensus is that if the current levels of environmental deterioration continue, the delicate life-sustaining qualities of this planet will collapse.
-- Daniel Sitarz, editor, Agenda 21 (1994)
The United Nations' Human Development Report 1998 (UNDP Report) states that "Runaway growth in consumption in the past fifty years is putting strains on the environment never before seen." Forests are shrinking, fish stocks are declining, soil degradation and desertification are rising, and pollution and waste are being generated at a far greater rate than the Earth can absorb. Even our fresh water supply-perhaps our most precious commodity-is being pushed beyond the limit. Since 1950, withdrawals have nearly tripled, and many feel that water scarcity will be a major environmental issue in the 21st century.
The same year that the UNDP Report cautioned that our consumption levels were straining environmental support systems, the World Wild Fund for Nature published its own Living Planet Report, an annual index of planetary resources. Examining a quarter century of data, the report concluded that global ecosystems are in sharp decline. From 1970 to 1995, we lost more than thirty percent of the resources that sustain life on the planet. During that period, freshwater ecosystems declined by 50 percent, while marine ecosystems declined 30 percent and the world's forests declined 10 percent. Annually, the loss in natural forest cover amounted to an area the size of England and Wales combined.
The Living Planet Report is only the latest of a growing body of research linking excessive consumption to environmental degradation. Many vital resources are being destroyed and degraded at a rate far exceeding their natural rate of renewal. Overwhelming evidence-from a host of scientific sources-suggest that we are, in the language of the UNDP report, tearing "great holes on the web of life." Some of the evidence of this diminishment is as follows:
· Fifty one percent of the freshwater animal species of the world are declining in number.
· One of every eight known plant species is threatened with extinction or is nearly extinct.
· One in ten tree species-some 8,750 of the 80,000 to 100,000 tree species known to science-are threatened with extinction.
· The overall rate of extinction is estimated to be 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than it would be naturally, and appears to be increasing. The last time such a mass extinction is believed to have occurred was 65 million years ago, when a dramatic shift in global climate patterns ended the age of the dinosaurs.
· Global forest cover is shrinking by 30 million acres a year. Causes include human-induced fires, agricultural expansion, logging, road-building, and exotic insect infestations.
· Vast destruction of the world's forests is contributing to the spread of the world's deserts, increasing the loss of biodiversity and hampering the ability of the Earth's atmosphere to cleanse itself.
· Some 58 percent of the world's coral reefs and one third of all fish species may be at risk from human activities.
· Fisheries are collapsing. About a quarter of stocks worldwide are currently depleted or in danger of depletion. Another 44 percent are being fished at their biological limit.
· Massive erosion-related to intensive farming practices and deforestation-is causing a rapid loss of topsoil and with it a potentially drastic drop in the ability to produce food for the world's people.
· 1998 was the hottest year recorded since record keeping began in the 1860s and 2009 the second hottest. According to scientific evidence, it was the hottest year in the past one thousand years. Seven of the ten warmest years recorded occurred between 1990 and 1999. The dominant view among scientists is that a significant portion of this warming is the result of industrial society's emission of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
The common thread through these environmental crises is unsustainable consumption. From mining, refining, transport, manufacture, use, and disposal of goods, humans today-individually and collectively-are asking more of the planet than ever before. The impact has been staggering. Quite literally, we are living beyond our ecological means, destroying the natural world in the process.”
What is the solution? Do we all need to imitate No Impact Man (explain -For one year, Colin Beavan and his family unplugged from the electric grid, produced no trash (no toilet paper, etc), travelled exclusively by foot or bike and bought nothing except food (all of it locally grown). By the end of they discovered something surprising: living simply wasn’t just good for the environment; it made them healthier happier and richer in ways they never expected)
Do we need to all live like Henry David Thoreau who moved away from the city and later explained why when he wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Or live like freegans who rather than purchase food, depend upon what restaurants and stores throw out?
I am not preaching that we all need to start living like these examples, I am not saying that we need to live like our ancestors thousands of years ago? NO, Human desire and passion are not bad. Our desires are part of who we are and therefore good (don’t let them rule you) But does our passion and desire concerning consumption make us happy?
Consumption isn’t necessarily evil, it is in fact very human. George Orwell said, “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits.” The problem isn’t consumption but rather overconsumption. Our quest to own stuff has taken over. For many of us the goal in life is to acquire and possess as much stuff as possible and the only way to do this is to waste the greater part of our life working in order to do so. Henry David Thoreau, the same man who for almost two years gave up everything to live by a pond, said “There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.” The fatal blunder many of us make is that we waste our lives in pursuit of stuff rather than in the pursuit of happiness and this need to change. We need to break the philosophy of owning stuff and replace with this thought
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common--this is my symphony.
WILLIAM HENRY CHANNING.
“TO LIVE CONTENT WITH SMALL MEANS.
This means to realize to the full the possibilities of life. Contentment means ABSENCE OF WORRY. It is only when free from worry that the brain can act normally, up to its highest standard. The man content with small means does his best work, devotes his energies to that which is worth while, and not to acquiring that which has no value.
TO SEEK ELEGANCE RATHER THAN LUXURY.
The difference between elegance and luxury is the difference between the thin, graceful deer, browsing on the scanty but sufficient forest pasture, and the fat swine revelling in plentiful garbage.
REFINEMENT RATHER THAN FASHION.
The difference between refinement and fashion is the difference between brains and clothing, the difference between an Emerson or a Huxley and a Beau Brummel or other worthless but elaborately decked carcass.
TO BE WORTHY, NOT RESPECTABLE.
In other words, to be like Henry George, and not like the owner of a trust.
WEALTHY, NOT RICH.
The man who has a good wife and good children, enough to take care of them, but not enough to spoil them, is WEALTHY. He is happier than the man who is RICH enough to be worried, rich enough to make it certain that his children will be ruined by extravagance, and perhaps live to be ashamed of him.
TO LISTEN TO STARS AND BIRDS, BABES AND SAGES, WITH OPEN HEART.
This means to enjoy the noblest gifts that God has given to man. He is happy who takes more pleasure in a beautiful sunset than in the sight of a flunky with powdered hair, artificial calves and lofty manners, handing him something indigestible on a plate of gold.
TO STUDY HARD; TO THINK QUIETLY, ACT FRANKLY, TALK GENTLY.
To exercise in this way the brain that is given to us is to lead the life of a MAN, a life of self-control, a life that is worth while, that leads to something and helps forward the improvement of the race.”
To me one of the most compelling parts of this new philosophy I am asking you to think about and even live is to ““TO LIVE CONTENT WITH SMALL MEANS.” To many of you that may sound as if I am asking you to be cheap, and that is exactly what I am saying! Cheapness is a virtue that leads to financial security. If we live with small means, we will break the burden of debt that is threatening millions of Americans and will be able to spend less time earning a living and more time living. Nietzsche said, “who-ever possesses little is possessed that much less: praised be a little poverty!” “Imagine cheapness is the new in thing, living cheaply, consuming less, scaling down our needs and wants to modest levels.” Being cheap does not mean living like a caveman! Cheapness instead is a habit of asking yourself, do I need this? Is this a good use of my hard earned money? Or do I want it solely because of the advertisement I saw about it? This may sound like I am asking you to give up many pleasures of life, many of us find pleasure in our stuff and this is not a sin, but what is a sin, to me, is wasting our lives and destroying our planet in pursuit of the unneeded stuff. I am asking you, not to give up everything, rather to give up the superfluous things. Don’t stop consuming but instead stop overconsuming. If we adopt the practice of living contently with small means, seeking elegance rather than luxary, refinement rather than fashion, by being worthy, wealthy, and using our time to find enjoyment in life we can change the world. We will end the belief that stuff equates to happiness and will stop the overconsumption that threatens the planet.
But can changing how we live make a difference? Will buying less stuff really save the planet from potentially catastrophic change? I don’t know, but what I do know is we wont make any difference if we don’t try. I am reminded of a story of a monk who wanted world peace. This monk was sickened by war raging across the planet. The monk came up with an idea. In order to achieve world peace all he needed to do was get all the different world religious leaders together in a hot tub. He knew if he invited them, nobody would show up, but if the invitation came from the Pope. He hoped that if he went to Vatican City and told the Pope his plan, the Pope would surely think it was a brilliant idea. To make a long story short the monk went to Vatican City but was never able to gain an audience with the Pope. His idea didn’t really make much sense and would never have worked nor accomplished world peace. The moral of the story is just do it, TRY! Maybe some of us will fail, but maybe some of us will succeed.
I often hear the argument that one person can not make a difference. How do we know how much we can influenc others. How do we know one of us will not become the next MLK? How do we know we will not be the next Ghandi? We don’t unless we try.
In conclusion I would like to end with one more story.
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up. As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a little boy, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?" The little boy paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean." "I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man. To this, the little boy replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die." Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"
Discouraged he began to walk away. Suddenly the little boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one." The man looked at the little boy inquisitively and thought about what he had said and had done. Inspired, he joined the little boy in throwing the starfish back into the ocean.
Do your part. Story about monk who had the idea to achieve world peace all that would need to happen was get all world religious leaders together in a hot tub. To do this the pope would have to be the one issueing the invitation. The monk went to the Vatican unannounced………. Moral just try! Instead of saving the world by doing nothing we should start trying. Even if most of us fail maybe one or a couple thousand wont. And we will inspire others to start from where they are.
What difference can one person make? None if that person doesn’t try to make a difference. How do we know how much we can influence others? Perhaps we will become the next MLK, or Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, etc
We can all change the people around us by changing ourselves
Why even try can we make a difference “I gave up thinking the world was going to change a long time ago. Ive accepted the fact that I just have to keep on trying to change it because it’s in my nature. Im just the kind of guy who has to try. Do you want to be the type of person who try’s or doesn’t
This may sound like I am asking you to give up many pleasures of life, many of us find pleasure in our stuff and this is not a sin, but what is a sin, to me, is wasting our lives and destroying our planet in pursuit of the unneeded stuff. I am asking you, not to give up everything, rather to give up the superfluous things. To be cheap! I know that being cheap has a negative connotation but to me cheapness is a virtue. who-ever possesses little is possessed that much less: praised be a little poverty!What I am asking you to do is change your consumption habits.This is my philosophy. It is a work in project as I still struggle to break through the ingrained doctrine of STUFF = HAPPINESS, PROSPERITY, SUCCESS, ETC. Why do I think this new philosophy should be adopted by all people? Because I believe the only way to save ourselves, our country and the earth and find true happiness that comes from leisure, family and community is by radically changing the way we act.
If we adopt the practice of living contently with small means, seeking elegance rather than luxary, refinement rather than fashion, by being worthy, wealthy, and using our time to find enjoyment in life we can change the world. We will end the belief that stuff equates to happiness and will stop the overconsumption that threatens the planet. I am simply asking everyone to be cheap
There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.
Henry David Thoreau