Modern society makes junkies of us all. Economic growth is dependent on making us perpetually dissatisfied and craving for more junk/stuff/things. It keeps us spending, keeps us working and keeps us distracted, numb to the reality of life and ourselves. We are all addicts and some of us will steal to feed this addiction, some of us will even kill. Ironically, it is sometimes the ones who see through this and take a different route through life, that end up becoming addicted to other things such as alcohol or other drugs. They are the most dissatisfied, making numbness deliberate and seeking obliteration. Sometimes the causes are more specific, but generally, one way or another, the underlying cause is the very fuel of capitalist society, dissatisfaction itself. Apart from small numbers of off-grid idealists and monks, drug addicts and beggars are probably the only people who do not fuel capitalism, they are lost to the market and society hates them. After all, they have chosen to buy drugs and pay the dealers, rather than consumer goods and pay the taxes, failing to live up to society’s expectations and the reinforcing effects of conformity. Yet it seems to me, it is that very society, which has made them addicts in the first place.
So how does capitalism maintain this level of dissatisfaction? Well, we all know about the powers of advertising, branding and marketing, the dream of winning the lottery, the cult of celebrity and obsession with the lives of the very rich and famous, but the other powerful weapon is choice. Governments of capitalist countries are obsessed with choice, and promote it with the idea that it is good for individual freedom and expression. This may be true, but it has also been shown to be directly opposed to happiness. Freedom is correlated with happiness, because it encourages a state of mind which is flexible and good at adapting to circumstances when life does not go as planned, but freedom of choice is not. In an experiment by Dan Gilbert et al at Harvard university, https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy when people were given a choice between two photographs they had made, if they thought they had to stick with that choice, they ended up liking the picture they had chosen more, but when they were told they could change their mind, they did not. They were left wondering if they had made the right choice, whichever one they ended up choosing. This reflects so many real situations in life. We often feel this way after weighing up all the 5000 different mobile phones or computers to choose from, or it could be our job, our lover, where we went for our holidays, anything. If we think we could have chosen differently and maybe still can, we are less likely to be content with our decisions and less likely to stick with them. This leads to a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction and consumption – a marketer’s dream feeding the addiction, like gambling. In a supermarket, where the shelves are crammed full of twenty or thirty varieties of the same product, albeit thinly disguised, we like to think we are making an informed choice on what we buy, but mostly, we are following sub-consciously manipulated desires and the whole experience takes longer than it should, creates low-level anxiety and is far too complicated, when all we really want is a loaf of bread, some rice or pasta and a few vegetables!
My advice, for what it’s worth, is, find a few things you like and stick to them, cut down on choice, go to smaller local shops, don’t watch any advertisements, or at least mute the sound when they come on the television ( you’d be surprised how much that simple act reduces their power), really take time to appreciate the things you have in your life already, learn to enjoy commitment, instead of comparing everything with others, (especially important for partners and spouses), forget about what other people have and just think about what you actually need, along with the needs of others and those of the planet. Don’t be a junkie all your life, in fact try giving some of that junk away (it feels good), like the alcoholic pouring his drink down the sink. Break the cycle of addiction. The only choice we really need to make is happiness itself, which we are remarkably capable of doing, once we stop overrating one imagined future over another and exaggerating the effects of the things we fear. It is not circumstance that makes us happy, but our own acceptance of whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, if it cannot be changed.