A Consideration of Consumerism
One of the seminal effects of our culture has been a transformation in the nature of happiness. In a way, we are no longer concerned with the ‘attainment’ of happiness, but rather, its ‘pursuit’. As the lifetime of commodities continually shrinks, and the time before their use-by-date gets increasingly slim, happiness shifts from purchasing commodities to the very act of shopping. Shopping, the active pursuit of commodities, is now the true fountain of happiness.
Commodities wear out, they lose their lustre, and they become unfashionable. They cannot be trusted as the foundation for individual happiness. The once-secure state of happiness has been found to be elusive, fickle and unstable; it is only the chase of that stubbornly elusive happiness that can keep us happy. The finish line disappears, the track itself becomes the goal. Chasing after commodities is the only source of consolation for a lost happiness. What was once the means has become the end.
By shifting the vision of happiness from a gratifying life to the search for a means for that gratifying life, markets have seen to it that the pursuit can never finish. The targeted commodities replace each other with dizzying speeds: new phones, new shoes, new homes, new clues left by the coaches and guides of consumer culture to help us in our quest for full realisation. But, the pursued targets must quickly fall out of fashion, lose their ‘cool’, attraction and power, only soon to be abandoned and replaced; many times over, in a never-ending process of increasing speed and intensity. The vision of happiness shifts from the after-purchase joy of a new commodity, to the act of shopping that precedes it. It is the chase of anticipated happiness, constantly pursuing a goal which recedes perpetually like the horizon.