While making a sandwich for lunch the other day, I reached into the bread bag for a slice. Instead of retrieving what I wanted, my first attempt produced the end crust, which happened to be much thicker than normal. As I returned it for a ‘better’ slice my mind wandered to thoughts about quality control, how a lot of people don’t like the crust, and how many crusts are simply thrown away because they do not make the perfect sandwich. Then I realized that while the majority of the world’s population would love to have that crust, many of us in the western world have been basically brainwashed to be perpetually unsatisfied with anything less than perfect. If we really stop and think about it this has had an insidiously damaging affect for quite some time.
The economy of our society is based on consumerism, and, especially in the US since the end of World War II, that system has been fine-tuned to make us all feel unhappy with almost everything we have, are, or interact with in order to sell us something. What, you don’t have the latest cell phone? The new one is so much faster! See those dark spots on your face? How unsightly! This new cream infused with turtle juice will make them ten percent lighter and only cost you twenty dollars! How can you watch football on a screen that is only forty two inches? And it’s not 3-D?! I can’t believe your children don’t have a tutor. How do you expect them to get into the best university? … I could go on for days, but you get the picture.
How can this constant barrage of negativity result in anything but generalized societal depression? Both research and common sense are bearing this out. Through my travel interests I read many books and blogs by global adventurers who usually get up close and personal with those they meet along the way. One common theme in these writings is that frequently people in wealthier countries seem less content (and even less generous) than those in poorer areas of the world. Is ignorance really bliss or is it true that the more we have the less satisfied we are and the longer we toil to have more and better? Is the pursuit of happiness making us unhappy? It might be.
There are other damaging aspects to this consumerism-driven desire for perfection:
- Waste: Out with the old and in with the new. One of the most unsettling statistics I’ve seen over the last few years is that 85% percent of what Americans buy is thrown out in the trash within six months, much of that because we were convinced to buy something we really didn’t need or replace something that worked just fine. Our landfills and oceans are reeling from all this stuff.
- Stupidity: All one needs to do is listen with an educated ear to television ads to realize how much misinformation, half truths, and downright lies are being spewed forth to sell us stuff. Unfortunately a lot of people believe it. All the beauty product BS is near the top of that list.
- Personal harm: Did you know the wax used to make apples look nice also makes it so you can’t wash off the pesticides? Which do you think will do you the most harm, not being as pretty or the wax and pesticides? Who convinced us we need to use an antiperspirant daily? We really don’t, and a link is beginning to emerge between the chemicals used in them and breast cancer. Is that worth not having a damp spot on your shirt? And how about the alarming epidemic of depression among young girls because they don’t measure up to the perfect computer-altered women in magazines and TV ads?
- Poverty: I personally believe (and I’m sure we all have examples that back this up) that a large contributor to many cases of personal financial trouble is the advertising-driven desire to keep up with the Jones’s.
I wish we could find a way to change this, to pass a wand over the land to remove this crushing pall of consumerism. But it’s been ‘all about the money’ for a long time, and as long as someone has something to sell they will do their best to make you unhappy without it and to buy in to their version of the perfect life. Resistance is frequently futile, but we do need to at least try and remember what really makes us happy. And now I’m positively sure that the end crusts of bread, even overly thick ones, will make great sandwiches. 🙂