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Consumerism and the Pursuit of Happiness

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It is no secret that dissatisfaction and discontent are a part of life. But we as a functioning society have let ourselves go to an extent where we find content and satisfaction from materialistic things.

So much so that the government alongside major corporations have found a way to exploit the public to make big bucks.

Like Bradbury predicted; we are not only infatuated with the wonders of mass media – but also with worldly things. This makes us susceptible to a cycle where we just keep spending our blood, sweat, tears and money chasing after a such materialistic things that leads us to our misery.

Society has now come to a point where we are #obsessed over; over-advertised, over-hyped and over-priced products.

Why is it that people today go out of their way to get their hands-on ‘things’? Why do people spend thousands of dollars on designer clothing, the latest cell phones and expensive cars?

Perhaps like Millie, the possession of having the fourth wall despite its costs in the room fills a void. A void which is created and then exploited by her society.

In the novel, both Montag and Mildred are undoubtedly unhappy. But while Montag puts in the effort to investigate why he’s unhappy, Mildred uses the distractions provided by their society to conceal her unhappiness; even from herself.

And when Montag mourns his unhappiness, Mildred beams, “I am. And proud of it”.

Was she though? Was she really?

It’s said that money can buy you happiness and yet, there is constantly news about depressed millionaires who spend fortunes on therapists or famous persons that devastate themselves through drug-addictions.

A pioneer in this consumer culture named Edward Bernays, claimed that he had developed a technique to “stimulate people’s inner desires and then by sating them with consumer products he was creating a new way to manage the irrational force of the masses”. In a sense – a form of social control with the encouragement of consumerism.

In fact, an American professor redefines consumerism as “the belief that personal wellbeing and happiness depends to a very large extent on the level of personal consumption, particularly on the purchase of material goods.”

How shallow have we become to associate people’s happiness with what they own?

That very mindset is supporting a culture that is both ‘socially destructive’ and ‘self-destructive’. It destroys the happiness and peace of mind of those who succumb to it.

While consumerism’s original purpose may have been to drive economic growth, it now has quickly evolved into a tool for social control.

We must break free from the tricks of mass media and control our inner desires. ‘How?’ you ask. Well, by firstly not giving a damn to trends, hypes and designed obsolescence which all serve a closely related purpose.

It is only when Clarisse asks Montag what brings him personal satisfaction and happiness does Montag realize he doesn’t give a damn- at all. About his mindless job or the fourth wall.

Maybe we too can realize that the materialistic things we purchase are masks of our unhappiness. Do we all need a Clarisse to make us realize that all these materialistic things really do not matter- at all?

Purchase that two-thousand-dollar jacket, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, “Are you happy?”

Not your bank account that’s for sure.

The need to keep up with endlessly producing hype machines and cheap, quick and disposable trends are forces that subdue us into a sense of panic. The panic which convinces us we need that new Gucci bag.

We have sadly succumbed to our consumer-driven society because it distracts us from the brutality of our current state- our maybe unfulfilling lives, the ongoing bombardment of bad news that fill the news channels we choose not to watch and ignore, and the #badvibes from the hater who commented on your well edited Instagram photo.

How far are we going to let dissatisfaction plague our life?

This is where I can’t help but think about Mildred and how she exemplifies how dissatisfaction is the norm in her society and yet no one does anything about it.

They all put up a façade that they are happy, and they do not care. Wouldn’t you feel the unhappiest if you had to pretend you were happy?

Maybe that’s why there’s so much news of depressed people. Spending a lifetime trying to prove something by having the best of everything isn’t a one-way ticket to the promise-land. Maybe, instead, credit cards are one-way tickets to the downfall of humanity and the nurturing of our insanity.

Marcuse, whose teachings and book, One-Dimensional Man, argued that the sense of achievement we get through spending and consuming is a hollow one that conversely makes us unsatisfied.

The similar sort of hollow emptiness Montag comes to realize that has been ever-present in his life. He says, “we have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing.”

That very thing missing in Montag’s life was happiness and fulfillment. A deeper purpose in life. Because until that point from his awareness of his unhappiness – all his interactions with people in including his wife were superficial.

Superficial – just like the materialistic items we are convinced we need and thought made us happy.

Studies show that people who place greater value on being with the people they care about and doing things they believe in, tend to be healthier, both physically and mentally.

Which leads me to believe that having minimal things is better than having everything.

Even Rebecca Bloomwood from the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic, says “we all fail to appreciate each day just how much we already possess. Light, air, freedom, the companionship of friends.”

I’m not saying that you need to restrict yourself from buying yourself things, no, not at all.

All I’m trying to say is that keeping up with trends, hype and the latest models of technology isn’t going to keep you happy in the long run.

I reckon if we’re going to cut off on all the unnecessary and irrational spending on materialistic items, we should at least find more fulfilling things to spend our money on.

And if there is something you want to get that is one-third of your salary, make sure you’re not riding the band-wagon of trend and it offers you more benefits than displaying mindless television shows that kill your brain cells.

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