When it comes to productivity, most people could stand to become more productive and efficient with their time, yet as a culture, America has gone so far down the wrong path towards getting things done. Why is it today, in the advanced stages of our technology that we work longer hours than ever before?
Way back in the 1930s, respected economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that, because of the astounding progress of technology, that the work week would someday be reduced to just 15 hours per week. Other great thinkers of his time followed suit and supported this view, and yet America recently clocked in with a staggering 46.7 hour work week in 2014.
What happened to John Keynes predictions that we would soon be burdened with the task of finding what to do with so much more spare time? Did technology fail us, or just maybe… did we fail ourselves? Why do workers in countries like Germany work almost 400 hours less per year than American workers, yet still celebrate the world’s 4th largest economy?
Is all the pressure of the American culture to stay on top, lead the pack, and be number 1 causing us to falter, or is there something much deeper and darker at work in our daily lives?
In a country where you are assigned a number at birth, plugged into the tax system, and expected to purchase more than everyone else around you in order to determine your own self worth, is it any wonder that we often sacrifice our own lives and happiness to make something of ourselves?
Consumerism as a social and economic order and ideology encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts, but where did consumerism come from, and whose idea was it anyway?
Back in the early 1900s and right up through the end of WW2, America was a country of production. America produced everything from automobiles, to textiles, to airplanes, but as globalization, increased technology, and outsourcing took hold of the American economy people slowly stopped producing things and started consuming things.
America is the second largest consumer of energy in the world (despite a much smaller population than China), the number 1 consumer of calories in the world, and America also tops the list of countries for the amount of credit card debt per person.
All these facts point to one conclusion: Americans are consuming MUCH more than any other country in the world.
If Americans are enjoying the benefits of more consumption, then why are we collectively working more hours than any other country in the world? Mounting credit card debt, higher costs, and clever marketing have all lead us into a culture of spending more than we make and as our bills surpass our incomes, we work more hours to make up for the difference.
If you asked most people in the United States what they wanted more of, there would be 2 answers that you would hear a lot of: time, and money. People want more money so that they can buy more stuff, and they want more time to enjoy their stuff.
What John Maynard Keynes didn’t anticipate was that as the standard of living and level of technology would rise in the United States, also the need for more things would also rise. The standard of living has certainly gone up in America (in a strictly financial sense), but other indicators of well being have plummeted.
Divorce, murder, job dissatisfaction, depression, suicide, and crime are at an all time high in America.
So what gives? If we are consuming more than any other country, why are we so miserable?
The United States as a whole has become one huge corporate conglomerate; mega corporations have spent billions creating highly clever and targeted ads to get you to buy their products. Celebrities dictate the newest fashions and trends and everyone else is expected to follow suit. Schools, careers, house purchases, and automobiles all act as rights of passage, allowing people to show how “good” they are- and how successful they are.
America has created a society where people are graded upon what they own, what they accomplish, and how attractive they can be to the public eye, all the while inner character and integrity have fallen wayside in the pursuit of more.
It seems like most people don’t seem to care what type of person that they are, but they care much more about what types of things they own.
We have all been brainwashed to consume beyond our means, trade in slightly outdated technology in favor of more complicated and expensive technology, and to abandon individual thought in pursuit of mass conformity and group-think.
Is there a mass conspiracy underway that wants to overthrow the American citizen and create super elite wealthy people that will ultimately save and own the poor? Probably not, but some think this way…
The real problem isn’t advertisers and corporations, the real problem isn’t government and American leaders, it isn’t schools, or the breakdown of the family (although all of these are contributors to a sick culture), the real problem is a personal disregard for inner character, for modest living, for sacrifice, and giving back to others.
I love my country, and I am not here to bad-mouth it, I just want you to see that we are all pawns on a board of consumerism that encourages us to give up who we are, what we want, and to fall quietly into line and consume more than we can afford.
We have created a world where true ideas of wealth (health, family, love, happiness, and adventure) have given way to the idea of worth (or strictly financial gain).
So how do we escape the grasps of consumerism, grow our minds, cultivate our inner worlds, and live happier and more modest lives?
All it takes is a commitment to spend less than make, save a little bit of money for a rainy day, and spend less time working and more time doing the things that you enjoy, or just doing things that give back to others.
Getting rid of your smart phone technology, deleting your facebook account, cutting up your credit card, or trading in your brand new car and getting a used one instead may seem radical, but in the history of the world it is normal. Are these things required for a life of moral integrity? No, but for some perhaps the only true path is a radical rejection of today’s consumer society.
If you could quit your job today, have total financial independence, and just wake up every morning on the beach surrounded by the people you love and live each day exactly as you desired, would you do it?
Of course you would!
There is nothing stopping you from creating that exact type of life right now. You don’t need thousands of dollars of designer clothes, a brand new laptop, a mercedes benz c-class, or a million dollar home to be happy. All those things don’t make you who you are, and if anything they will only detract from you being able to create the type of person you want to become.
What I propose is this:
Sell or give away the things you don’t need, stop buying things you don’t need, cut your costs on frivolities like eating out and going to movies, save money when times are good, live in a house or apartment you can easily afford (even if it isn’t as nice as you would like to have), drive your car until the wheels fall off, and pay off your car payment, read books, go on adventures, travel, expand your mind, take care of your health, exercise, eat better, get to know people very different from yourself, read or write poetry, sing, open a business, quit your job, do more of what you love, be better to your family, develop honesty, stop judging others, accept everyone.
These ideas aren’t so radical, but they are certainly rare in our day and age. We tend to think that financial independence and freedom are reserved for millionaires and billionaires, but if people would simply live within their own income levels, then we could all travel more, see more, love more, and live better and happier lives.
These are the days of your life, the only life that you have been given, don’t spend your time and life buying things that you don’t need. Live life, laugh more, and leave the mass hypnosis of consumerism behind you.
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