Decoding The Influence Of Consumerism

Words: Sarah Kearns
Feature Image: Raw Pixel

We’ve all heard it a thousand times; money can’t buy happiness. So why do we continuously attempt to do exactly that?

Maybe we’re not actually trying to buy happiness. But we mindlessly buy clothes and cars and cosmetics and cell phones, hoping that they’ll make us happier. And when they (unsurprisingly) fail to, we buy more stuff. This Eurocentric model is consumerism. It promotes the acquisition of goods and services, oftentimes in excess of what a person actually needs. Not to be confused with capitalism, which is an economic system, consumerism is a cultural ideology, so it’s success is dependent on the attitudes of the country it’s practiced in.

As one would expect, consumerism thrives in Western countries, but not necessarily because of the countries’ wealth that allows for their occupants to have consumerist values. After all, people buy things even when they can’t afford them, and though affluence is still a major contributor, the authority of consumerism lies in advertising.

There are several different techniques used in advertising to convince the consumer to purchase the product. Celebrity endorsements, for example, are frequently utilised in clothing and makeup campaigns. Other routes an advertisement might take are offering discounts, spouting facts and statistics, and instilling a sense of social responsibility in the consumer, amongst others. Regardless of the strategy of the advertisement, they all convey the same message: that the product will improve one’s quality of life.

Buying a product does have the potential to make us happier, but the impression is usually temporary, or it has the opposite effect entirely. This was revealed in a psychological study conducted at Northwestern University. One group of students was shown images of luxury goods, like cars, electronics, and jewellery, and words representing consumerist values. The other group saw neutral images and words without consumerist connotations. Afterwards, both groups of students completed questionnaires. The students exposed to consumerist images and words rated themselves higher in depression and anxiety, more competitive, and less interested in social activities and pursuits. Though the students didn’t purchase the luxury goods, the images and words alone were enough to negatively impact them, demonstrating how consumerism is harmful to mental health.

Aside from our own well-being, consumerism hurts developing countries, where many of the items we buy are manufactured and materials for these products are sourced. This results in environmental destruction and pollution, poses a threat to animal species and habitats, and exploits labourers who are forced to work in unsafe conditions for meagre wages.

It’s difficult to break free of the influence of consumerism, but you can begin by practicing mindfulness when shopping. Ask yourself why you’re buying something. Do you really need it or is your inner consumerist telling you to buy it?