Behind the Joneses

01 Sep 2010
Behind the Joneses

If you ever went to a shop and thought, "Why does everyone have this except me?" you're hardly alone. It can seem that even with the economic downturn everyone still manages to have the latest gadget, the most impressive clothing brands and the cutest accessories. Except you. Everywhere you look, advertisers are telling you how fabulous their products are and you're seeing friends, neighbours and family sporting them. You can hardly be blamed for feeling a bit jealous, right?

Our society works hard to show us the glamour of "having it all." We want the latest iPhone or iPad, or the newest fashion because our friends have it or the advertisements make them look so-ooo appealing. They taunt us with fears that if we miss out on this sale, we will be socially disadvantaged. Companies feed on our fear of being alone by suggesting that if we don't have their product, we won't be able to connect with others. It is easy for our fear and our perception of social responsibility to lead us to buy the latest and greatest without too much consultation about where our "stuff " comes from.

So from the moment we're able to understand what the shiny posters are telling us, we want stuff. We are programmed into the social network of consumerism.

There isn't anything wrong with consumerism in moderation. However, buying indiscriminately isn't good for our soul or the people making the "stuff."

source of unhappiness

The Self-Determination Theory, developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester, involves understanding our basic psychological needs and how satisfying them-or not-affects our psychological health and wellbeing, or ill-being.

Deci pointed out that after researching goals of university students, attaining extrinsic goals like wealth, fame and image do nothing for one's psychological wellbeing and actually contribute strongly to their ill-being.

"Their attainment of those goals doesn't help their happiness, satisfaction, vitality and wellness at all," says Deci. "It contributes zero to that. And the more unsettling finding is that it actually contributes to their greater illbeing, which is to say more anxiety and depressive symptoms."

Having the money to buy whatever we want on a whim isn't making us any happier. In fact, it can create more unhappiness!

To combat the lust for stuff, some people have gone to varying lengths to change the way they live. Take Dave Bruno for example. Bruno is a blogger who created the 100 Things Challenge. The challenge asks people to live with only 100 personal possessions for anywhere between 100 days and one year. He has taken up the challenge for a year. His goal is to show that our Western lifestyle doesn't have to be wasteful.

Bruno says, "One of the ironies of American-style consumerism is that the less financially responsible we are, the more we tend to buy stuff. Our system of consumerism thrives on irresponsibility. My feeling is that there are two things we must do to avoid becoming a slave to consumerism: First, put our faith in something bigger than stuff (like God) and second, keep as much of our money as possible out of the cash registers at stores." Bruno doesn't mean not using the money, but to spend it on something else, like a charity or a savings fund for your child.

the sinister side of "stuff"

There is also a much darker side to our throw-away society-exploitation. On April 15, 2010, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article highlighting the child labour and abusive work conditions used to make and package computer parts.

It cited human rights group National Labor Committee, which released a report saying a factory in the Guangdong province of China "recruits hundreds of 'work study students' aged 16 and 17, who work 15-hour shifts, six and seven days a week."

The report, produced after a three year investigation, found workers were treated like prisoners and share primitive dorm rooms, sleeping on small plywood planks, having to buy their own food and mattresses. It even alleged sexual harassment of female workers by security guards.

Global March Against Child Labour (GMACL) is an organisation working to stamp out child labour likely to be "harmful to the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development." It is located in New Delhi and focuses on sweatshops where young children are sent to work for long hours earning nothing more than a place to sleep and a bit of food.

A Delhi lawyer and activist for the GMACL says, "Shoppers in the West should be thinking 'Why am I only paying


Kristin Thiele