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Consumption in the 21st century

People have always consumed the basics of life such as food, shelter and clothing and have always relied on work in order to fund these necessities. However, up until the 20th century there was “little economic motive for increased consumption amongst the mass of people”.

One way in which consumption is a problem in society today is because of the money and the economy. Money consumption is typically the amount of money that is spent on goods and services for personal use or enjoyment.

So, does money really buy happiness or is that just a cliché saying? Research has shown us that “income levels above $75,000 a year rarely results in remarkably increased levels of happiness” which tells us that money does not equal happiness and suggests that when income is above $75,000 the two things are not related.

However, in opposition to this, the updated version of the Wharton study claims that “people actually are happier when they make more money”. Furthermore, the study states that this research from 2010 portraying that people tend to be happier with a higher income but only up until the point of $75,000 a year is now outdated. In addition to this, a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school found that people’s general well-being and happiness rises alongside the amount of money, even beyond $75,000.

Whilst this debate about money and happiness in relation to one another is ongoing, there are also multiple different factors in which this idea of consumption affects. One main one is the way in which it benefits our planet.

One specific book that looks into this in detail is ‘In climate shock: the economic consequences of a hotter planet’ which was written by Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman. In their book they challenge different behavioural economic views that suggest small personal changes and negligible are irrelevant to social change.

However, they have also conducted research that suggests that the initiatives of a few people who have strong moral commitments can effect social change in relation to consumption. They have called their findings the “Copenhagen theory of change”.

Moreover, research has proven that we are currently overusing the planet at around 175% which tells us that we would need 1.75 planets in order to support the consumption of resources that we use.

However, as a result of the pandemic, human consumption of the Earth’s resources declined in 2020. Researchers have concluded that the lockdowns that took place this particular year resulted in a 9.3% reduction in humanity’s ecological footprint in opposition to the previous year.

Regardless of this decrease, however, if we carried on consuming ecological resources at this rate we would still need 1.6 planets. Because of the lockdowns which meant that no one was leaving their houses unless it was for ‘essential’ reasons, we could conclude that the resources acquired were in order to produce material items rather than the enjoyment of others.

So, similarly to the question of ‘does money buy happiness?’ we could also ask, why does more stuff not equal happiness?

A number of different studies worldwide have shown that the increase in happiness as a result of gaining more items decreases from the more items in which we acquire. In other words, the first three items you purchase make us happier than the sixteenth or seventeenth, for example.

In addition to this, research has also shown that after we have our basic needs catered for our aspect of material goods tends to revolve around those that we are with. Consequently, if we are surrounded by over consumers we may feel more unhappy with our belongings but if we are around under consumers we typically would feel happier about them.


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