“The more you believe that happiness comes from material wealth, the more likely you are to be depressed, distressed, and anxious – and the less actual well-being you’re likely to experience”
To Buy or Not to Buy, April Lane Benson, PhD
“Now that the Birkin’s been lost to the Wags, we’re all about the classic St Louis tote (£580)”
From today’s Sunday Times, Style Magazine
A teenage girl recently visited Uganda as part of a church trip. On her return, she announced to her parents that she was getting rid of many of her material possessions; she had realised that she didn’t need everything that she owned.
For me, there are two aspects of our society that are revealed by this anecdote.
Firstly, that the surroundings we grow up in are, to us, the epitome of “normal”. Challenging our norms is nigh-on impossible, precisely because we do not realise that our “normal” is something that could be objectionable to some. The girl didn’t realise that she had masses of unnecessary “stuff” until she was confronted with a world completely unlike her own. It took this journey to the other hemisphere for her to understand that her “normal” world wasn’t, in fact, normal at all.
Secondly, our culture of “keeping up with the Joneses” or “affluenza” is exposed. As April Benson writes, in ‘To Buy or Not to Buy’, our society has started to believe its own consumerist lie: that the more material possessions we own, the happier we will be. So, in a state of paralysis, we march out to buy the latest i-gadget, 600-quid handbag or ever-larger flatscreen television. If we could all simultaneously take a step back and examine our own behaviour, what would we think? If, say, we were all dumped in the middle of Uganda, or Malawi, or Burundi, with nothing. Would we look at families struggling to pay for food, water, healthcare, and sanitation, and think that those UGG-stamped boots, or latest version of that smartphone were still so essential? Maybe. But, I would argue, probably not.
How hard is it to change your notion of the norm? I visited Malawi in the summer of 2005, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. In 2010 I went to Africa again, and saw slums, sewage-strewn townships just outside of Cape Town. Both of these challenged my own behaviour; I felt superficial, selfish and extremely privileged. It wasn’t long, though, before I fell back into step, marching along to the consumerist bandwagon’s tune.
Let’s be honest here. Living without succumbing is pretty difficult. It’s all very well saying that our desire for material possessions is superficial or ridiculous, but could you step off the merry-go-round? I won’t pretend I’ll be living like the average Malawian, but I am trying to take a step back to examine my personal, skewed, norm. The way I’m approaching this is to question myself every single time I’m about to hand over my money. Do I need this? What would happen if I didn’t buy it? Can I afford it, factoring in everything else I have to pay for this month?
Hope you’ve had a great weekend, thanks for reading. x