Why Do We Consume So Much? And Why Aren’t We Happier?

I believe that we consume as much as we do in the pursuit of happiness. Western Industrialized societies are imbued with the idea that having more leads to happiness. So we work long hours, sometimes at jobs we dislike or find stressful in order to acquire more.

Researchers have now determined that our happiness is impacted in the following ways (Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness):

• 50% is based on our genetic make up. Some people are just born happier than others.
• 10% of our happiness is based on our circumstances. In other words, as long as our basic needs for food, shelter and safety are met we can be happy.

This last statement is a key to happiness. Let me say it another way:

Having different life circumstances can only improve our happiness by, at the most, 10%. To quote Lyubomirsky:

“….Only about 10 % of the variance in our happiness is explained by changes in our circumstances. –that is whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced, etc.” (Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness p. 21)

• 40% of our happiness is based on what we choose to do and think

According to a great deal of research, the happiest people have the following thinking and behaviour patterns. They:

o Devote a great amount of time to their family and friends nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
o Are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
o Are often the first to offer help to co-workers and passers by.
o Practice optimism when imagining their futures.
o Savour life’s pleasures and try to dwell in the present moment.
o Make physical exercise a weekly or even daily habit.
o Are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (for example fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children deeply held values, etc.)
o Cope with challenges with poise and dignity.

So, all of those of us, including me, need to take this into account in our decisions about how we spend our time and energy. Perhaps we can refocus our lives so that we spend less time doing activities that do not lead to happiness and more time on activities that do. This could mean consuming a lot less and acquiring a lot less.

If we spend our time on the activities listed above we would perhaps make very different decisions about what we need in terms of consumable “stuff” and that could lead to a lot less demands being placed on our environment.

It could mean a lot less stress for everyone as well. And that sounds to me like a virtuous cycle. Less acquisitions leads to less stress leads to more happiness which leads to even less stress and so on….

It’s a lovely scenario. And all we have to do to create it is believe and then live it.
And if enough of us start living in these ways we might even learn a new lifestyle that would be less hard on our biosphere. Because the real source of strain on the biosphere is our quest for more and more stuff.

If the reason for this quest is that we believe these things will make us happier we now know we are wrong and that we can be happy through a very different approach to our lives.

That would be good for us and for the environment!

What do you think?


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