Muses about everything from MECM20003 to hipster glasses and hot chocolate

Are we happy?

All through history, philosophers have contemplated the nature of happiness.

Today, teenagers all over the world bop along to saccharine Taylor Swift songs, bemoaning how their life is hard/ sad/ boring/ lacking/ not worth living.

My question today is simple: are we happy in the consumer culture that we live in?

My answer is simple too. No.

The system of capitalism places a premium on the cultural practice of consumption.

Capitalism tells us: buy these goods, they will bring you happiness. They create a cultural experience derived from the consumption of such goods, and convince us that it is pleasurable. They utilize celebrities to endorse products they do not personally use. They attempt to create hype about products through social networking sites.

But really, are we happy upon buying these goods and services?

Happiness is always out of our reach in contemporary consumer culture. Materialism will give you social status, comfort, ease your life, make you happy. Really? Notice how purchasing the latest iPhone 5 doesn’t bring you as much joy as you thought it would?

One thing is sure. A life of narcissism, a life of ‘me, my needs, my wants, and me’ is not making anyone happy.

Our unlimited wants, unending needs, uncontrolled spending, unnecessary buys and unbridled acquisitions have all resulted in one thing – an unhappy life.

John Urry theorizes in The Tourist Gaze that happiness in consumer culture exists – not in the purchase and consumption of items, but in the imaginative pleasure-seeking involved in consumption.

We imagine and perfect these scenarios in our daydreams. We then seek to fulfil these scenarios by purchasing these goods. However, “since ‘reality’ can never provide the perfected pleasures encountered in daydreams, each purchase leads to disillusionment and to longing for ever-new products.”

There is a dialectic of novelty and insatiability at the heart of contemporary consumerism.

John Urry (The Tourist Gaze)

Is that transient feeling of happiness truly happiness? Do we really wish to subject ourselves to such an arguably meaningless cycle, seeking ‘virtual’ pleasure and imagined happiness, but always ultimately entrapped in this disillusionment and longing?

This process, though exhilarating, ultimately drains us.

What does it drain us of? It drains us of the time to appreciate ourselves, understand others, connect with people, sigh upon nature, delve into a book, contemplate ideas. It is precisely these things that take time to come to fruition, effort to materialize, but are infinitely more enlightening compared to presenting a credit card to purchase a spanking new television set.

So why can’t we extract ourselves from these endless cycle?

Our lives are so woven into the fabric of a consumer culture that we cannot extricate ourselves without facing potentially hefty financial, social, and psychological ramifications. “Consumption, and the lifestyle it necessitates, has become the number one social duty”.

Close your eyes.

Don’t think about the latest must-have. Where you are heading for a holiday. Whose concert you have to attend. Think about all the things you should be thinking about.

Don’t have a clue? This girl does, and she wasn’t afraid to say that to a room full of adults in a UN meeting:

Think about it.


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This entry was posted on October 26, 2012 by .



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