Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.
The modern industrial economy works like this: resources are dug from a hole in the ground on one side of the planet, used for a few weeks, then dumped in a hole on the other side of the planet. This is known as the Creation of Value. The Creation of Value improves our quality of life. Improvements in our quality of life make us happier. The more we transfer from hole to hole, the happier we become.
Unfortunately, we are not yet transferring enough. According to the Worldwatch Institute, we have used more goods and services since 1950 than in all the rest of human history. But we still don’t seem to be happy. Indeed, over the same period, 25-year-olds in Britain have become ten times more likely to be afflicted by depression. One in four British adults now suffers from a chronic lack of sleep, and one fifth of schoolchildren have psychological problems. Over the past 13 years, mental health insurance claims have risen by 36 per cent. American studies suggest that between 40 and 60 per cent of the population suffers from mental illness in any one year. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2010 depression will become the second commonest disease in the developed world. Unless we start consuming in earnest, we’ll never experience real joy.