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Consumerism: Are We Stuck With It?

Photo by Jingxi Lau on Unsplash

CW: This article discusses topics of mental health which could be distressing to some readers.

Like it or not, we are all consumers. Whether you enjoy a nice meal out, new clothes, or holidays etc, this plays a part in consumerism.

What is so wrong with consumerism?

People may seek enjoyment out of consumerism, buying products or spending money on something that will benefit them. Or, it could just be satisfying a basic material requirement, such as the need for food and shelter.

The negative outcomes, however, are quite worrying. The rate of resources that is maintainable is surpassed by 60% each year. This contributes to the ongoing issues of pollution, climate change and ecosystem damage.

Not only are we depleting our natural resources, but consumerism also promotes poor labour standards and pay for workers. The competitive drive caused between companies in a fight for consumers provokes a desire to reduce the price of products. This, in turn, causes companies to outsource their manufacturing to other countries, such as China, in order to lower the cost of wages.

You could argue that, to an extent, consumerism drives economic growth and creates jobs. However, it is also evident that the consumption of goods generates the loss of jobs in western countries, whilst promoting poor working conditions in other parts of the world.

Mental health and consumerism

Consumerism does not necessarily bring about happiness or enjoyment. In fact, materialistic tendencies are associated with decreased life satisfaction, happiness and social cooperation as well as increases in anxiety, depression, racism and anti-social behaviour.

The depression rates within the past decade have doubled, and it was found by the Varkey Foundation that British millennials have the second worst mental wellbeing in the world. There has also been a surge within younger people: 93% of teachers in the UK have noticed an increase in mental illness in their students.

An arguably major factor in this is the rise of social media and advertising.

"Social media puts pressure on young girls to live their lives in the public domain, to present a personal 'brand' from a young age, and to seek reassurance in a form of likes and shares." - YoungMinds Charity

Appearance has become an important aspect of social media and therefore seen necessary by some young people. This benefits consumerism - advertisements that promote appearance or ongoing trends are successful.

This has a detrimental impact on the social media user and consumer, promoting low self-esteem and self-confidence, and allowing a mindset based on appearance and comparison to others. It is worth considering whether consumerism and its negative connotations have had a part to play in worsening mental health.

So, are we stuck with it?

We could all do our bit to make changes to escape excessive consumerism. The word excessive being key, we cannot escape being consumers of basic material needs. The way to end excessive consumerism would be mainly to rethink our priorities. To focus on consuming less would promote sustainability, to an extent. It would ultimately be difficult to maintain a beneficial level of consumption.

However, we can help ourselves. Studies have shown that people who rely less on physical material for happiness are generally happier. It is important to remember that what you see on advertisements or social media are not in control. The best way to escape excessive consumerism and its impact on our mind would be to focus on what brings you happiness.

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