Happiness is Consuming itself

Article published on Aug. 30, 2016
Article published on Aug. 30, 2016

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Is happiness really a give and take? Why is all the western world rushing towards the life plan model of the American Dream? Does society always have to be in a buy and sell mode to be considered successful? 

“Happiness is something so simple yet so complicated. Simple because everyone can feel it, but complicated because not everyone allows themselves to feel it”, emphasizes Ms. Vivian Bouzali, Harvard Graduate of Human development and Psychology in an interview with CafeBabel. The average American is beginning to evolve into a superficial, materialistic being who faithfully follows the market roadmap. In modern days it isn’t anymore about individual or collective happiness. Instead people base their happiness levels on the market. When waking up in the morning what will deem if they will be happy on that day, is if their favorite new video game came out, if the stock market prices went up or if they finally got that job promotion they wanted. Similarly what makes holidays special for most are the gifts and shopping trips they go on. The capitalistic society we live in, has designed the marketplace to be so alluring and captivating and as a result people are manipulated by consumerism tactics and are brainwashed to believe that their happiness will come from the amount of shopping bags they carry.

One may say that the American culture and mindset have been a stepping stone for most of the western world, thus such behavior may be common in a plethora of European Countries. However the World Happiness report conducted by the UN, earlier this year seems to profoundly discord the ideology that money and happiness are linked, by displaying European/Scandinavian countries on the top five of the world’s happiest countries. However, the global finance report conducted by Forbes by total individual wealth shows ranking in the top three, China, U.S and Japan. Which rises the obvious question why are the top five happiest countries European, whilst the top three richest countries are not? And why aren’t the same top three richest countries the top three happiest countries? Is there an actual link between money and happiness?

It seems to be that the top three happiest countries are European due to a couple mindset changes. Denmark, ranking first for example has shared with the world that the major secret to happiness is lowering one’s expectations. However, it is difficult to understand how having little to no expectations could be considered a life model. Yet their claim directly contradicts the American dream ideology that screams loud and clear “work hard and achieve your goals and dreams”. But you may ask how is the western world copying the American mindset if their ideologies are so far apart? The question you should be asking though, is to what extent are American and European ideologies parallel?

With disappointment,  millennials in both Europe and the U.S can guarantee that the marketplace is foisting them a new world that promises their constant happiness. Our happiness is “consuming itself” and it is put to trouble by the materialistic life we are reeducated to enter as kids and manipulated to continue to live as adults.  In a survey conducted in an english-speaking private school in Greece, a group of teenagers were asked the question “what would make you the most happy? A new iPhone 7 or a day out with your family? Sadly, 90% of the students answered the new iPhone 7. Which in essence confirms the consumeristic tactics of today’s teenagers.

Infantilization has been the key of the marketplace to the lock on the wallet of each citizen. A capitalistic society in order to be successful constantly has to be in a buy and sell mode. As a result, the market place strives to disguise “a prudent, thoughtful adult back into a child” according to Benjamin R. Barber, political theorist and author of Consumed. The market place constantly puts a burden on its citizens who can now be well defined by the word consumers. This burden is put on consumers through social media, advertising and marketing techniques. Sadly, responsible adults are turning into immature kids who constantly mouth the words “I want”. As expected these same adults raise their children to be the new consumers of tomorrow’s society. This same process has evolved into an inescapable cycle which has now begun to affect the millennials, who are new to the “consumer education program” but somehow have already “graduated from it”. Of course millennials are seen as the best target group for marketeers, as seen in the survey conducted above.

Children from the time they can begin perceiving the world, are entered in the “consumer program”, promised to find happiness at the end of it. The millennials grow up thinking that wealth is what will ultimately make them happy. This is due to a feeling called “Immediate Gratification it can be felt in all ages no matter the maturity level”, stated Ms. Bouzali reassuring the public that the media and the capitalistic society has done its job right. Happiness with the help of the 21st century consumerist society may now be defined by having whatever one’s heart desires and the way to guarantee it is money. Yet life isn’t a series of black or white decisions. Money may or may not guarantee ultimate happiness. At the end of the day, it is just another grey zone.

The American Dream becomes the life plan for most of the American citizens from the day they’re born. One would be astonished to learn that this life plan has not changed a bit since the 1920s. The majority of Americans set as their life goal to become wealthy and be able to provide for themselves and their families a lavish lifestyle. In a 75 year old happiness study conducted by Harvard University, 80% of 724 men surveyed said: “a major life goal for them, was to get rich”. Of course the question that rises here are who are the people participating in the survey? The survey began with a small group of Harvard sophomores and a group of teenagers from one of Boston's poorest neighborhoods. You may ask, don’t people who have money to pay for such a school have all their basic needs met, yes they do. So why are they even worrying about becoming richer when there are people out in the world losing their jobs and not having enough money to pay the bills? Seems to be that the need to be successful is prone to us due to our human nature. No matter how much we have, we always want more.   Robert Waldinger, leader of the study declares that: “humans are prone to quick fixes”. Money for many people around the world can be seen as a quick fix to most of the problems an average person of today’s society might have.

People depending on their needs and what afflicts them, adjust the levels of achievement they desire to acquire. As a result, the Americans believe that the American Dream is the perfect life plan to live by, since it promises wealth and happiness. The European lifestyle, of countries such as Switzerland, seem to agree on spending, being a source of happiness but uphold it by having a collective happiness system, ranking first in every category with the belief that people are happy when their basic needs are met, such as those of health, education and food. Other countries rushing to copy the American model are China and other oriental parts of the world as well as the Arab World who tend to focus slightly more on the pleasure of trade and it’s benefits. For example, in Iraq, in prosperous regions after the war people rush to buy expensive jewelry to satisfy their consumeristic sweet tooth.

The well renowned author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his book the Great Gatsby set in the time of the lavish lifestyle of 1920s, chooses to portray the American Dream through a character named Jay Gatsby. Gatsby’s plan, since he was a young boy, was to get a rich and a luxurious lifestyle by following the American Dream. Fitzgerald describes Gatsby’s house after he has achieved the luxury lifestyle he thought would make him happy: “a colossal affair by any standard— it was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side” After reading this description one would think that Gatsby was happy. Nonetheless, this could not be further away from the truth. Happiness should not be “the consequence of a lifetime of hard work” as said in an article by the Guardian titled the American Dream Backwards. One does not need to become rich to feel happy. Of course Gatsby was an unhappy man because whatever he did to become happy using as a vehicle to do so the American Dream is worth nothing without the love of his beloved Daisy Buchanan. Happiness is not a destination rather more a journey. “In the classic version of the American Dream, happiness is the result of achievement” as pointed out by the Guardian. Ultimately though, achievement in the eyes of a consumeristic society is wealth and achievement is a synonym for happiness.

In accordance with the above survey conducted in a private school in Athens, a millennial’s life has evolved into a series of “social” (read: socially accepted) choices rather than real personal ones. “Social choices” can also be defined as trends which are most of the time unavoidable due to the options the market place grants us. Social choices allow an individual to be accepted by today’s consumerist society. People have become immensely superficial and care more about taking a picture of what they bought to post on a social media page rather than actually making use of the item they bought. Usually, in modern days, the first thing someone does when they receive gift or return from a shopping spree, is post a picture of what they bought. Depending the feedback, this attitude, allows the user - consumer, to feel accepted or not by the “society” (read: friends or followers on social networks) since he or she made the correct social choice of buying a popular item and posting it on the web. This could be the explanation to why the group of teenagers in the survey conducted above answered that what would make them happier would be owning the new iPhone 7.

Marketing techniques have evolved so much that a shopper instantly feels the need to buy that item. “200 different kinds of automobiles, the one choice you don’t have is genuine, efficient, cheap, accessible” admits Benjamin R. Barber in his interview with Bill Moyers- an American journalist and political commentator. This does not solely refer to the car industry but to the majority of them. Marketing techniques used, force the consumer to buy something they might not need and buy the best version of it too. Ultimately, social choice has fired up the marketing sector. However people do pay a hard price. You control your own happiness based on the choices you make. The harsh truth is that one should not be asking much from capitalism since at the end of the day you are the ones who deem if you will be happy or unhappy.

At the end of the day..

From all the above, one could think that the marketplace has been brainwashing consumers for many years. Money is and will forever be, two sides of the same coin. It is how you manage your influence from the capitalistic society and what you are afflicted by that makes the real plot twist. Nevertheless, some life plans, like the American Dream may never change, but what if there has been something all along the way, that grants us instant happiness and for free? Of course, everyone would run out in the streets to find it, but what if they were sitting next you at this moment, or making dinner for you in the kitchen? Yes, the answer to escaping a consumeristic lifestyle is family and friends. Relationships keep us healthy and happy and the best part is that they only require... a bit of love.

As Mark Twain once stated, “ there is only time for love and good life is built with good relationships” “Perhaps”, as well said by Waldinger “that is why money and fame are so alluring, they give you the feeling that you must be loved”. It’s possible Jay Gatsby deemed himself unhappy, due to the fact that he never had the chance to be with his beloved lover again. The 75 year-old Harvard study proved that the only thing that can keep an individual healthy and happy truly, are human relationships. If we are too busy working hard to feel happy, then we must be imprisoned by our goals and the consumerist society we were forced to enter. “Happiness is in simple stuff, all of this: money, job promotions, fame, success is important to someone only when they can share it with someone else” claims Ms. Vivian Bouzali, supporting the findings of the university study.

Notes to the reader:

If you desire to look more into the world happiest report as well as the global finance report - 10 richest places in the world you may find them below (total individual wealth).

http://worldhappiness.report

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ranisingh/2015/11/08/new-study-finds-a-better-way-to-meure-the-worlds-richest-countries/#4b64d0c06b82

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Vivian Bouzali, Harvard Graduate : Degree in Human Development and Psychology Interview