Consumption Doesn’t Make Us Happy

We live in a culture that presents consumption as the ultimate end: Party with the pretty people drinking the good beer, get your husband to give you a car with a huge ribbon on it for Christmas, prove your love with a diamond, and so on without end. And it’s been going on for so long that most Westerners don’t see much else.

Consumption, however, doesn’t make us happy. Or, to be more precise, it imparts no real satisfaction: It’s all ephemeral, fleeting, temporary… if and when it’s even obtained.

What keeps people eternally seeking more consumption is not the feeling they’ll get from the good beer and sleeping with the hot girl/guy, but the hope of claiming the prize… the imagination that they’ll find magic when they get the girl-ring-car-house-job-jet-whatever.

I Know Because I’ve Seen

One of the great strokes of luck in my life was falling in with a fascinating group of older men at 15 years old. Here’s how I described it in issue #45 of our subscription letter:

As a very young man, I got to know mobsters and politicians, geniuses and maniacs, doctors and bus drivers, millionaires and bust-outs. And these guys let it all hang out in the workout room: business problems, family problems, girlfriends, booze, drugs, people who had cheated them, political scams, bribery… all of it. It was an education that I couldn’t have obtained anywhere else, for any price.

A wild businessman (whose briefcase sported marijuana, cocaine, and booze) took me to sporting events… although I had to call my mom first, to get permission! A professional football player became my friend. Millionaires told me their troubles. I experienced all of this, and much more, while I was in high school.

So, please believe me that the dream babe, the dream house and so on will not make you happy. They will for a moment, but not for long. I’ve watched that game play out over and over. More than that, I’ve had a few of the “dream” things myself. Some of them are nice enough, but they will not satisfy you over time. They simply aren’t the right vehicles for satisfaction… they can produce it no better than an apple tree can produce onions.

And here’s a quote from Neal Cassady, who had to be the number one party guy of the 20th century. He was the hero of On The Road, idol to multiple rock bands, and much more:

Twenty years of fast living—there’s just not much left, and my kids are all screwed up. Don’t do what I have done.

So, please don’t imagine that the advertised image will satisfy you. It won’t.

The Illusion Is As Bad As Cocaine

Actually, the illusion is a lot like cocaine. Do you remember the famous rat experiment, where they give the rat a shot of cocaine if it pushes a lever… and then the rat starves to death because it will do nothing except push the lever? Well, substitute modern man for the rat and the hope of consumption for the cocaine and the model holds.

The cocaine is not actual consumption, mind you, but the hope of consumption. And in that hope millions of humans spend their lives, chasing images and dreams that will never satisfy them for more than a moment… presuming they reach them at all.

The entire model – from the advertising complex to the hijacking of youthful hormones to dreams of status – it’s all an addiction, and the people selling it are “pushers.”

The supermodel will not make you happy.

The billionaire will not make you happy.

The mansion will not make you happy

The Ferrari will not make you happy.

They can not.

Some of these may give you a short burst of excitement and perhaps a feeling of triumph, but all are fleeting.

What Does Satisfy

What actually satisfies is knowing that you are a good and beneficial being. Not by hoping (“I’ll be made good someday”) or implying (“I keep the rules, so I must be good”), but by doing good and beneficial things… by having, as a few old preachers used to say, a conscious sense of righteousness.

In practice, this feeling – this recognition – comes from production: Knowing, based upon concrete actions, that you are a beneficial being.

The satisfaction generated by accomplishment endures through all of life, and they needn’t be gigantic accomplishments. Hang out with an old carpenter or bricklayer some time; take a drive through their home town. Invariably they’ll point out the stores, houses and factories they built. And each time they do they’ll feel satisfaction… that they created things that served and blessed the world. And that satisfaction will remain in them through the end of their days.

The same goes for raising good children, and other real accomplishments.

Why This Is Important Just Now

This is especially important just now because nearly all the fixes that come from the powers that be involve consumption: Reinvigorate your town with coffee shops and diners. More production is seldom even considered.

There are reasons for this (we covered them in FMP #103), but they are misguided and destructive. Consumption will never deliver what production does.

Without being productive, we degrade. Consumption isn’t remotely enough.


Paul Rosenberg