Following on from my last blog post, I am continuing the series of offcuts from my forthcoming book, “Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific”, due to be published on October 15th this year. Please drop me a message if you would like an email reminder when the book becomes available.
There is a widespread belief that economic growth is a good thing. But is that really true? If we are not sure whether or not it is true, let’s take a different tack; does this belief serve us well? Does economic growth make us happy? Does it make the world a better place? If not, then would a different belief serve us better?
Look at the United States and its prevailing faith that bigger is better in all things, including the economy. It is the most affluent society in the world, yet is rife with disease, addictions and unhappiness. It would be easier to understand our obsession with consumerism – or at least forgive it – if it was making us happier, but in most cases it isn’t. It has been demonstrated scientifically that beyond a certain level of income where our basic needs are taken care of, further income delivers very little additional happiness, but can have a major effect on levels of consumption, and hence on our environment.
I would like to see a world where we move the emphasis away from material wealth and conspicuous consumption, to an era where appreciating nature, living a healthy life, and nurturing our relationships matter more than having the latest model car or flat screen TV. I would like to see us focus less on standard of living and more on quality of life.
I find it a tragedy that we are trashing the Earth in the mistaken belief that happiness can be found in things, whereas in reality the only true riches in life are to be found between our ears. Happiness is a state of mind, not the state of our bank balance.
Being environmentally responsible does not have to be self-sacrificing. Doing the right thing feels good, because it should. A species that felt good about putting itself on a path to destruction would die out very quickly. Our instincts tell us that we are doing the right thing when we act in harmony with nature. This is our natural reward that encourages the preservation of the species.
Looking at contemporary society from the outside, I see consumerism, obesity, excessive busy-ness, hiding from the big questions like; why are we here? What is our life purpose? What makes us happy? The computer revolution was supposed to give us more leisure time, but we seem busier than ever, caught up in a whirlwind of largely pointless activity. Do we all know, on some level, that we are on an unsustainable path, that we are doomed if we carry on as we are, and all this busy-ness serves to distract us from the uncomfortable truth?
Fear makes people do strange things. It can push people into denial. When faced with incontrovertible evidence of our past mistakes, we feel ashamed and guilty. Rather than admit that we screwed up and try to rectify the problem, we deny that the problem exists, or that it was our fault.
We can try to hide from this knowledge, as I used to – numbing ourselves with TV, over-indulging in food, or burying ourselves in the constant busy-ness of twenty-first century adult life, most of which revolves around stuff – buying stuff, selling stuff, maintaining stuff, fixing stuff, earning the money to buy yet more stuff, all for the greater good of the economy, which is based on our growing demand for stuff. If we ignore the problem for long enough, maybe it will go away. We have become enslaved by stuff rather than liberated by it. But it is our choice. We can choose to own the stuff, instead of it owning us.
Next blog post: Conclusion.