In the current consumer culture materialism is king. Someone’s value as a person seems to be deemed almost solely upon how much they have, and not nearly as much on the quality of the person someone is. Americans have always been consumers in some sense, but not nearly to the degree that has been happening since the end of World War II. There is very little debate about how this has stimulated the American economy during this time period, the average American’s standard of living has been quite higher than most other countries since this period started. Our system of mass producing materials and the subsequesent mass consumption of those materials certainly brings in a lot of money. However, this comes back to the age old question of “Does money buy happiness?” While the consumer culture in America may have provided Americans with an extremely high standard of living, does it really supply us with a high quality of living?
The idea that people can only be happy if they possess large amounts of money is false. This is simply fact; there are many other things that should go into one’s life than simply monetary possessions. This does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that someone must be poor in order to find happiness. The goal is being able to strike a balance between the two, and realizing that people do not need materials to live a successful and happy life.
The first thing that must be done is the redefinition of what many Americans term as a “successful” living. Currently, the consumer culture drives us to believe that someone who is successful, has a good job, makes lots of money, has a big house, and being able to buy anything they wish to have. There is deliberate reason this has been embedded in our brains, the culture wants us to buy things, so therefore we must think of buying materials as a “good” thing. There is nothing wrong with this idea, many people strive to have that type of life, but being able to buy whatever you want does not necessarily make you successful. Being successful means that one is living a fulfilling life. A lot more goes into living a fulfilling life than just being able to buy at ones desire.
One thing that really seems to be missing from the current American culture, is the sense of community that once existed between people. This does not mean that people live in hermit holes and rarely ever see another human being, but how many people in America today can truly say they feel a strong sense of community in their lives? Sure, some do, but not nearly enough. In the frenzy to acquire as much money as possible, in order to buy as much as possible, people seem to forget that some of the best experiences in life, do not require money, but just good friends and family. There are still many places around the globe today where this sense of community still exists. Villages in Fiji are a prime example of this. It may be a third world country, the people may have next to nothing, but you would not know it by experiencing the life there. They are among the happiest people on the planet; they have a strong sense of community in tight knit villages, where the entire village will constantly be gathering and actively enjoying each other’s company. They may not have the most luxurious life but they have what they need in order to live, and their life is sublimely simple and reinforced by their strong sense of community.
A prime value lost in the hustle and bustle of our consumer culture, is a sense of spirit in one’s self. Some may argue that religion is all over the place, and that is the last thing American’s need more of. This could very well be right, but organized religion is not what gives a person spiritual well being. This is easily forgotten many times when people are talking about spiritual values, it does not have to have anything to do with a particular religion. Every person can decide what defines a spiritual well being for themselves. However if someone cannot define what their idea of being spiritual is, they probably need to do some inner searching. It is an old clichÃ?Â© but a lot of Americans really need to take the time to “Stop and smell the roses”. There is a lot more going on in this world than the daily grind to gain monetary possessions. As our culture develops a product for everything we ever wanted, fewer and fewer people really connect with nature. Taking a little time every day, to do some sort of soul searching, really can have wondrous benefits. Whatever it is that you define as spiritual values, people should at least be able to give more of a reason for living then to acquire as much wealth as possible before they die.
None of this means that everyone should just quit their jobs and become a Buddhist monk. There are still many good reasons to be making money, buying the things one needs, supporting one’s family. By all means, people should make enough money so that they can be comfortable with their financial situation. This comfort level may differ from person to person, some people may never have more than 30 dollars in their bank account, but live a very comfortable life in their own sense. Instead, Americans need to expand their ideas of what constitutes a successful and fulfilling life. People need to get a stronger sense of community, explore their own spirituality, and realize that money will not buy happiness in the end. If Americans buy too much into this consumer culture, and get caught in the perpetual cycle of “Make money, spend money”, we will never have any real substance to our lives. However, if people wish to continue in which the direction that our lives are going, then we can watch as the essence of what makes us human is drained away from us, but at least we will all be rich, right?