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Beyond Neo-Liberal Consumerism

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Irrespective of nationality, religion, race, or gender; whether stinking rich, desperately poor, or somewhere in between, happiness is the one thing everyone is seeking.

The architects of the socio-economic system in which we live have devised a system that promises to satisfy this yearning. But instead of building a society at ease with itself, full of peaceful happy people, collective discontent is fed, resulting in a range of mental health issues and in some cases suicide.

Happiness, according to the duplicitous devotees of Neo-Liberalism is to be found in the homogenous shopping centers of the world, the sterile holiday resorts and brash casinos. In things, in products and services that stimulate and excite: Happiness in this perverse paradigm has been replaced by pleasure, love exchanged for desire, choice substituted for freedom.

Echoes of happiness

Happiness that lasts is what we yearn for, not a transient state in which one feels the tingle of happiness for a moment or so, only to see it evaporate as the source of our happiness loses its appeal, or is exhausted — the holiday comes to an end, a relationship breaks up, the gamble doesn’t pay off, a new I-Phone or handbag hits the high street making the old one redundant, etc., etc. We sense that a state of lasting happiness is possible but know not where it is or how to find it. The mistake commonly made, and one we are constantly encouraged to make, is to search for happiness within the sensory world where all experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, are facile and transient. The inevitable consequence of such shallow encounters with happiness is discontent and frustration.

Despite being repeatedly confronted with disappointment, instead of refraining from this never-ending quest, the searcher becomes increasingly desperate; a new relationship may be sought, a change of job or new home, more shopping outings, dinners planned, alcohol and drugs taken and so on into the darker reaches of sensory satisfaction and hedonistic indulgence.

Of course it is important to enjoy life, and yes, something resembling happiness is experienced on these excursions, but it is a happiness dependent on something, or someone, on certain elements being in place: take these away and the feeling very quickly evaporates. Such happiness is a mere echo of ‘True Happiness’, and one that carries with it conflict, fear and anxiety; this taste of happiness, functioning via the desire principle and the medium of the senses is relentlessly stoked by the exponents of neoliberal idealism.

The success of their divisive project, i.e., profitability, growth, development, progress, call it what you will, is totally contingent on consumerism, and the act of consuming relies on and is the result of perpetual desire. To their utter shame, despite having a responsibility to create the conditions in which ‘True Happiness’, can be experienced, most, if not all governments collude with corporate man/woman to promote the unhealthy, materialistic values that are the source of unhappiness as well as a range of social ills.

Desire is constantly agitated through advertising, television, film and print media; fantastical, sentimental, idealized images, of not just where happiness lies, but what love looks like, are pumped around the world every minute of every day. The aim of this extravagant pantomime is to manipulate people into believing they need the stuff that the corporate-state is selling in order to be happy. But happiness cannot be found within the world of sensations, pleasure yes, but not happiness, and pleasure will never fill the internal void that exists and is perpetuated through this movement into materiality. Pleasure is not happiness, nor does it bring lasting happiness, at best it creates a false sense of relief from unhappiness and inner conflict, a momentary escape before dissatisfaction and desire bubble up again.

Cycles of discontent

Nothing but discontent is to be found within this endless cycle of desire, temporary satisfaction, and continued longing. It is an insatiable, inherently painful pattern that moves the ‘Seeker of Happiness’ further and further away from the treasure he or she is searching for, creating disharmony and conflict, for the individual and society. Add to this polluted landscape competition and inequality and a cocktail of division and chaos emerges: Competition between individuals and nations separates and divides, working against humanity’s natural inclination towards cooperation, sharing and tolerance; qualities that were crucial in the survival of early man.

Competition operating in conjunction with conformity fosters ideas of superiority and inferiority; images of what ‘success’ and ‘failure’, of beauty, and what it means to be a man or a woman, particularly a young man or young woman are thrust into the minds of everyone virtually from birth. One of the effects of this is the tendency towards comparison, leading to personal dissatisfaction (with myriad symptoms from self-harming to addiction and depression), and the desire, or pressure, to conform to the presented ideal.

At the root of these interconnected patterns of discontent and misery, not to say disease, lies desire. Desire not just for pleasure, but desire for things to be other than they are; it is this constant movement of desire that creates unhappiness and deep dissatisfaction. If desire is the obstacle to happiness, then all desire needs to be negated, including the desire for happiness. Perhaps the question to be addressed then is not what will bring lasting happiness, but how to be free of unhappiness and discontent.

In ancient Greece, where life was hard and happiness was widely believed to be reserved for those rare individuals whom the Gods favoured, Socrates (470 BC – 399 BC) proposed that happiness could be attained by everyone by controlling their hedonistic desires, turning their attention towards the soul and by living a moral life. His view finds its root in the teachings of the Buddha, who, almost 100 years earlier had made clear in the Second Noble Truth, that far from bringing happiness, desire is in fact the cause of all suffering, and further, that freedom from suffering and unhappiness is brought about when desire is overcome.

‘True Happiness’ is an aspect of our natural self, it will not be found within the world of pleasure and material satisfaction, comfort and indulgence. It is an inherent part of who and what we are, and in principle at least, the possibility of unshakable happiness exists for everyone, everywhere, irrespective of circumstances.

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Graham Peebles is a freelance writer. He can be reached at: graham@thecreatetrust.org  

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