The Catch-22 in wanting more
From 2001 to 2004, I worked/lived in India. I saw heartbreaking poverty. My takeaway is that North Americans have no real problems, just 1st world problems. Our financial stresses, feeling unsuccessful, constantly seeking fulfilment is caused by marketing's influences and overabundance. It's no secret that marketers keep us wanting more and more. This manufactured appetite to consume has eroded our gratitude for all we have, compared to most of the world.
In 2018 almost half the world lived on less than $5.50 a day.
North Americans measure happiness and success by comparing oneself with others. How we feel about our income, car, and house are moulded by our family, friends, colleagues, neighbours' income, car, and house. So much of our consumerism revolves around trying to "look rich.".
Buying a Breitling® watch, an Audi S6 Sedan or a Lardini single-breasted blazer may make you feel happier. It's the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses effect. However, the happiness doesn't last long, since eventually "the Jones" will either buy what you bought, or something "better." This makes us want to buy more stuff. We all want to be "the Jones."
When the latest iPhone comes out, the lineup at Apple stores are people who have a functioning iPhone in their pocket, wanting to be "the Jones."
We compare ourselves to those who appear wealthier than us, an illusion easy to create, given the ease of credit today, coupled with social media. Economist Thorstein Veblen coined "conspicuous consumption" to highlight how people use luxury goods to display their social status, which social media amplifies. Veblen observed that people lived on treadmills of wealth accumulation, incessantly competing with others but not increasing their own well-being.
Wanting, and therefore constantly seeking, recognition (validation) is the biggest driver of human behaviour, which explains social media's addictive quality. (Social Media = "Look at me!") You giving a $2,000 cheque to charity receives no social applause. However, post a selfie wearing a $1,500 leather jacket — you'll receive likes and ego-stroking.
Our society has gotten where we feel recognition, respect, and love are more likely to come from owning a 65-inch flat-screen TV or driving a Tesla Model S than from doing good deeds or just being a good person.
We know that consumption doesn't lead to happiness. Every religion and philosophy evangelizes this concept. Karl Marx's most important insight was his theory of alienation, which he defined as the sense of estrangement from the self that comes from being part of a materialistic society, in which we are cogs in a vast market-based machine.
We give our life meaning when we give more than we take, help someone in distress, share, empathize, develop meaningful relationships we can count on, are a good son, daughter, or friend, and serve others.
Please remember that material prosperity has benefits -- and costs. The costs come when we allow our hunger for the trappings of prosperity to blind us from the sources of true human happiness: faith, family, friendship, and work in which we earn our respective definition of success and serving others. These are what deliver the happiness I see so many trying to obtain through consumerism.