Weekend Ramblings: More on Consumption vs. Happiness

>> Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sometimes on the weekends, I ramble about thoughts I've been having that week. Feel free to comment, add to my thoughts, or disagree with anything I say. But please remember that I don't like being called an idiot, even if I'm being one. So keep your comments respectful.

Continuing with the topic from last weekend's rambling, I've been thinking more about consumption and environmentalism and how they relate to our level of happiness.

In his book, Colin Beavan spends a lot of time pondering his theory that we consume because we want to feel loved, and advertisements tell us that if we consume, it will make us feel loved and that will make us happy. But if the point is to feel loved, he queries, why don't we just skip the consumption and spend more time with people. Thus, Beavan concludes that if as a society we improve our social connections, we will feel less of a need to consume.

I agree with this idea to a point. But I also think there's some intrinsic pleasure in consuming that has nothing to do with the desire to be loved. An example:

For ten months while we were trying to sell our house, half of our stuff was staging our house in Maryland while the other half was in our apartment in Raleigh. During that time, I discovered how little we needed to get by and how much of our stuff was purchased not to fill a necessary role but to make our house look nice. It made me really think about our consumption habits.

But when we finally sold our house and got all of our belongings back together in one spot, it was like Christmas - only instead of getting new things, I was rediscovering old things. And once all of our furniture and decor was placed in a permanent spot, I looked around and felt a real sense of home - a sense I never got when our stuff was divided.

And even now, when I walk into the house, the first thing I think is, "My home is so beautiful," and I get this great feeling of satisfaction. The decor really shows off my style and tastes. Everything in the house is something I picked out, and I love it all.

So maybe I don't need all this stuff. But it still makes me happy.

Another example:

I have severe addictions to Diet Coke and chocolate. Sometimes at the end of a stressful day, I have an overwhelming urge to drink a Coke or eat some chocolate. I'm feeling unhappy, and Coke or chocolate are an instant pick-me-up.

Feeling like I shouldn't need to consume something to make myself feel happy, I've thought a lot about what role Coke and chocolate are really filling in my life and whether or not I couldn't get that same feeling from something else. But although I enjoy reading and music and crafting and yoga and even watching TV or spending time with my husband, they don't provide that instant feeling of gratification that I get from drinking a Coke or eating some chocolate.

I don't love the stuff in my house because I'm trying to make an impression on someone else. I love it because it's mine. And I couldn't replace the Coke or the chocolate with social experiences and get the same effect. So maybe consumption is not all about a desire to be loved.

What do you all think? Are there other reasons we consume? And do you think men consume for different reasons that women?

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