Valentines day -- are you ready? Here comes one of several dates on the calendar that cause consumer angst. First, there is the mandate to buy; to show your love with a material item. Does it work? Can you show your love through an item you bought at the department store? For the ethical shopper, the the terrain is double-edged. Buy for the sake of buying (problem number one) yet beware the slave-labour chocolate from conventional brands and avoid the pesticide-ridden conventional flowers; only fair-trade chocolate and organic flowers could possibly show your love. Should we just halt the present-giving altogether and end the anxiety?
U.K. journalist and trend forecaster James Wallman, says "yes." Touring the United States last week to promote his book "Stuffocation," Wallman posits that by yielding to this need to consume, we are not only moving away from happiness but we are actually being crushed under the weight of our consumption. We buy too much, we own too much and and our happiness scores have never been lower.
Consumption as a negative is reminiscent of last year's critically-acclaimed book "Overdressed, The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion," where author Elizabeth Cline's tackled the lure of cheap fast fashion, highlighting research that showed Americans typically own 300+ items of clothing and buy, on average, 64 items of clothing per year. Cline's verdict was consumption at that pace was harmful; to the economy, the environment and the shopper. Her advice: slow down consumption, particularly of fast fashion. With his book Wallman takes it even further; stop buying altogether. Stop shopping, and start doing.
Wallman explains, "The antidote to stuffocation is experience, experience, experience. Material goods don't make you as happy, they're not as good at giving you stories, status, identity, meaning and happiness. De-Stuffocate -- that is, get rid of all your stuff you don't need and don't use -- and play a game I think of as the Brewster's Millions game instead. For a month, spend the same amount you normally would, but spend it all on experiences, and have nothing physical to show for it at the end of that month."
Wallman's theory is catchy because it honors the role consumerism has had in creating economic abundance and higher standards of living in developed countries. And rather than snub his nose at that legacy, he suggests that consumers need to keep putting their money back into economy -- but rather than having product to show for it, have memories and experiences; visit the museum, take a course, hike Kilimanjaro. While some will argue that many experiences are free; a walk on the beach, breakfast in bed, a picnic in the park. Wallman agrees - yes, do those, and then do more. And relish the lightness of being.
Since there is no time like the present -- how about this Valentines Day, you and your loved one, or you and your posse of anti-Valentines find some creative adventure to partake in. As for Wallman, "This Valentines Day I will be taking my little girl to see the dinosaurs at London's natural history museum, and giving my wife a foot and belly rub. At eight months pregnant, nothing else makes her happier."
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