I’ve been feeling an overwhelming sense of despair about the state of world lately. The scope of modern day injustice is vast and seemingly insurmountable. International conflicts, terrorism, environmental catastrophe, human rights crises, economic downturn. Rape, hunger, poverty, homelessness, pollution, unemployment, sex trafficking, cancer, global warming, an increased cost of living. All of these things pose threats to the happiness, health, and safety of people the whole world over. And trying to rectify even one among this multitude of ills, international in scope, is daunting enough to discourage even the most well-intentioned of individuals.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I’ve come to a few small conclusions about the way we think about our world, our own stake in it, and our happiness. These few little fleeting seeds of ideas have taken hold and grown as certain conversations, literature, and the like have reinforced my position. And it was while reading the preface to Eve Ensler’s The Good Body that I finally realized that these thoughts need be shared.
For me, a lot of these problems come down to the lies we’re fed. Modern-day culture is saturated with the delivery of messages from more sources than ever in more forms of media than ever previously known. But the vast majority of these messages are sent with the same thing in mind: profit. Women are commonly afflicted with an ideal body image that is unattainable. And while Hollywood tells women that a good body requires starvation, inordinate amounts of exercise, and unhealthy standards, industrial agriculture feeds us more than we could possibly need in the form of food-like-substances lacking any nutritional value. But if we buy into both camps, we find ourselves failing. And in come the exercise gurus, diet pills, and miracle weight-loss plans. I’m not saying that there aren’t other motives, some of them pure and good, that figure into any of these industries. Rather, I am hoping to turn a critical eye to the system at large and to reconfigure how we conceptualize happiness and satisfaction.
Buy buy buy. It’s thrown at us when we watch TV, drive our cars, check our email, run our errands, and so much more. In fact, it never really stops. Americans are especially subject to this constant barrage of advertisements fueled by the notion that to buy is to be an American. Consumerism is constructed as a prime duty of any well-intentioned citizen. But once you’ve got the basics – food, clothing, shelter, furnishings, and a bit of entertainment – what more do you really need to buy? According to US culture, a whole lot. I’m not saying a nice shopping spree or trip to the mall can’t be a source of satisfaction, a great way to cheer up after a rough week, or even a necessity at times. But the feeling that we have to buy, that we need to accumulate more goods in order to be happy, is one of the biggest lies we are being fed and I, once again, challenge you to think about what you buy and why.
I’m not saying that renouncing goods or opting out of the mindset that a tiny waistline makes you beautiful will solve the world’s ills. But as documentaries like I Am and literature like that provided us by Eve Ensler elucidate, our preoccupation with consumption, our strident adherence to capitalism, and our individualistic value system make it increasingly difficult to tackle issues of supreme importance for human beings less blessed than our Westernized selves.
Just imagine how different our world would be if, rather than buying processed snack foods composed of nothing but empty calories, we directed our spending money towards fighting hunger? There is more than enough food being produced to feed the entire world’s population. The real struggle comes in redistributing it effectively. If we focused on changing how we eat to the benefit of eaters the whole world over, the impact would be nearly immeasurable.
How about if the money we spent on a coffee once a week was put towards a charitable international organization? Though I fear I sound like those “For a dollar a day…” commercials, please hear me out. Think about how much those small little luxuries cost in the space of a single year. And think about how far a single American dollar could go in a third world nation.
Being cognizant of the messages we’re being fed and how they influence our decisions and our happiness is important, both for us as individuals and as a human race. I don’t expect everyone to abandon their dreams and the comfort they’ve worked to attain in their lives over a measly blog post. I do hope, however, to encourage people to think about the messages they buy into, about how much outside factors influence their happiness, about how much they have that they don’t need. And maybe those thoughts will lead to action. Whether you put aside money in a charity fund to donate to the organization of your choice at year’s end, take part in a microloan program to increase third world sustainability, participate in a volunteer travel experience, spare some change for a homeless person on the street corner, or simply challenge the notions that have become so ingrained in our heads that we rarely question them, I hope you take some time to think about why you feel how you do about your body, why you spend your money as you do, and how you can make the world just a slightly better place by refusing to accept all the lies we are fed day in and day out.
I’ll leave you with this little token of wisdom from John Lennon. I think it’s a pretty apt way to wrap up what I hope I’ve said through this post.
“If everyone demanded peace
instead of another television set,
then there’d be peace.”