Friday, March 2, 2012

Will Your Next Purchase Bring You Happiness?

Welcome to my second installment of how we can restore America. Yesterday, I wrote about the need for spiritual renewal. We all know there are many issues facing our society and nation. As a Christian, I don’t believe that we will be able to fix our nation’s problems through political change. Change occurs from within, and only God has the power to transform an individual. All he requires is a willing participant in the process.

There are several steps that are necessary to restore America. In part one of this series, I explored the concept that we live our lives in the marketplace and that we have to find a way to separate or find some distance from a marketplace mentality. In this installment, I want to explore the issue of a consumer-based culture.

Our lives are driven by consumerism. Of course, consumerism is necessary in order to maintain our economy. We all need a gallon of milk, a gallon of water, and a gallon of gas to fuel our vehicles. There are basic needs that must be met in order just to live; however, the brand of consumerism that is practiced in America today is not driven by need but by want. It’s hard to believe that as a nation we consume 1/3 of our planet’s natural resources. But yet the United States composes only 4% of the world’s population. We have taken consumerism to an entirely new level.

As I see it, our brand of consumerism is based on three principles the came into existence in the late 1940s. First, there’s the “new and improved” principle. Whatever you buy, you can be certain that next year there will be a new and improved model or product on the market. The only problem is that it’s not that new or improved. It’s a matter of cosmetics and a few tweaks here and there or a few new bells and whistles. The bottom line is it’s the same product. But you’re made to feel inadequate because you don’t have the newest and improved model. The goal is to get you to keep buying the same thing over and over. So what we do is throw out perfectly good products before they are used up and no longer functional.

The second principle is “it’s built to fail”. Even if you want to hold on to whatever you bought, whether that’s a car, an appliance or some other product, eventually it was built to stop working. Our whole consumerism is based on this very principle that nothing is built to last a lifetime any more. Whatever you buy today will be obsolete in short order. So even if you want to hold on to what you bought, our brand of consumerism will not allow that to take place.

The third principle is “you deserve to have the best”. Our consumerism does not allow one size to fit all. We offer the standard or entry level, the deluxe, and the luxury model. The consumer is always encouraged to upgrade to the next model. We are told we deserve the best. We are told that we have worked hard so why not move up to the very, very best? But ask yourself if it is really necessary to have the best when the deluxe model will serve our purposes. The truth is the luxury model is where the real profit is. But we’re told in our culture through advertising, marketing and branding that having the best will define us as a person of worth and value. Having expensive things proves to the world that I have arrived. I am a person of means and someone who deserves your respect and admiration.

Our brand of consumerism is ultimately based on the idea that the next purchase will bring us happiness. But when it doesn’t, we become delusional and feel the need to buy something else that will restore that sense of contentment. Buying things brings us happiness for only a moment. It is almost as if consumerism is very much like drugs. We have to take more of them to get the same effect.

The only way to restore America is to get off of the consumer bandwagon, and that won’t be easy. Our mass media culture has convinced us that we need to spend all of our money and then charge as much as we can on our credit cards. Seventy percent of the American economy is directly tied to consumer spending. Our entire way of life, the structure of our society and our nation is tied to consumerism. To be honest with you, I’m not sure what we would replace it with. There are so many people who benefit from this system. Any effort to change it or reform it will be met with the uttermost resistance. But the key to freedom is learning to get off the consumer treadmill. When you consume, you are tied to the things that you own and that you owe. How much time do we spend maintaining the stuff we own that we don’t have time to actually use? Things have a way of becoming our new god whether we intend that or not.

I know people who have gone out and bought boats and swimming pools but never seem to have the time to use them. It doesn’t make sense does it? If we are going to restore America as a nation or individually, we have to find something to replace the type of consumerism we are caught up in. Buying things that we really don’t want or need doesn’t make any sense, does it?

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