Before the industrial revolution altered our ancestors' lives, people found joy in simple things: in other people - in community, in nature, in spiritual practices. Happiness was freely available to all; no down payment was required, no interest penalties were applied. Today, we have a new mythos. Today, we are told and taught that happiness is available through consumption. David Suzuki, in his book The Sacred Balance, chose an apt quotation that talked about how consumption is a poor substitution for happiness.
Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness.
The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.
~ Benjamin Franklin ~
Contrast the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin with this observation.
Growth leads to increasing wealth and this, through the market system,
provides the basis for satisfaction of all human needs.
McCann, Fullgrabe & Godfrey-Smith, 1984
Really!? Wealth can meet all of our human needs? Money can buy love, courage, compassion and joy? That is an outrageous statement. Outrageous, but necessary. Necessary, that is, if you believe in the myth that we must have a strong economy based upon never-ending growth. Let's look closely at the mythos of our times.
Our economy needs to be strong!
How often have we heard this statement? Would you agree with it? Sure, on the surface it appears very reasonable. We need a strong economy. Without a strong economy there will be job losses and poverty. With poverty comes poor eating habits, a lack of educational opportunities and poor health overall. One cannot be happy if one is poor, right? It seems obvious, but let's ask the question, "why?" Why does our economy need to be strong? Here is the obvious answer.
So that we can buy everything we want.
Again, this seems entirely reasonable. We need a strong economy so that everyone can have whatever they want. Set aside for a moment the fact that, even in times when the economy is going very strong, there are still many people living in poverty, in sickness, who do not have higher education opportunities. This is a self-evident fact. It is so obvious, in fact, that we never need to actually state it.
A mythos is hard to detect from the inside. Other people's myths are easy to spot. We can have great fun pointing out how primitive other culture's myths are, but hard to see are the myths we live by. We need to step outside, for a moment, the mythos and ask the next question.
Why do we need people to want and buy things?
The answer may surprise you, but it forms the whole basis for the modern consumer society.
So that the economy can be strong!
Now we have the whole myth laid bare. We need the economy to be strong so that people can buy things and we need people to buy things so that the economy can be strong. Or, to distil this circular logic down to its bare essence,
We need the economy to be strong so that the economy can be strong.
There is the paradox completely exposed. Our consumer-based economy exists only to support consumption. A consumer-based economy is not the only form an economy can take. Societies throughout history worked and thrived without this style of economy. Prior to the industrial revolution, in an agrarian-economy, people worked and lived contented and happy lives. Sure, there were social and political problems and many other health issues in those times, but these issues were not solved by a consumption-based economy but in spite of them.
A consumption-based economy is unsustainable. Regardless of how big the planet is it is finite. The number of resources we can sustainedly access and use is limited. How long can we really follow the philosophy espoused by Victor Lebow, a retailing analysts who wrote,
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.
Journal of Retailing, Spring 1955
To use up, burn up and discard things at a faster and faster pace does not guarantee a healthy and perpetual economy. It only guarantees a huge consumption bubble that will burst one day spectacularly. We really do not need more big bubbles bursting.
Sure we need to meet our needs. We need to have the resources to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. But we do not need to do this in an unsustainable and ruinous way. We need to learn to consume mindfully. Our present mythos needs to change. We cannot afford to continue to live this way.
Once again, we need to live mindfully and we need to consume mindfully.
There are three aspects to consuming mindfully. We need to learn to eat mindfully; to be aware of how the choices we make in our foods and their sources affect the planet and our society. We need to learn to travel mindfully; to be aware of how the choices we make in the ways we transport ourselves harm our environment. We need to learn to buy mindfully; to be aware of how and what we purchase affects the planet, plants, animals and other people. These are the mindfulness practices we will explore under the umbrella of Mindful Consuming.