American consumerism has also influenced the world but I was done with the madness to acquire endless amounts of stuff 20 years ago, after a first-hand experience of society’s powerful influence over a person to purchase items.
It happened in Las Vegas. I was standing at the entrance to a posh hotel. In front of me tourists rushed into the main hall where new stereo systems were on sale for $99, an unprecedented occurrence back then.
“We are currently undergoing a major transitional process. In this process, we feel the failure of trying to fulfill ourselves with material goods and travels.”
I didn’t need a stereo, and I was sure that I wouldn’t use it. But as I looked around and saw striking red letters flickering the word “Sale!” on enormous signs, and the announcer calling incessantly that it was a $200 saving, I momentarily lost my self-control, and found myself waving a $100 bill. This was all while dozens of tourists around me converged on the packages of stereo systems, as if they were canned foods being advertised before a war.
Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, or any major sales event points to a deeper phenomenon than just buying cheaper goods: society’s influence over a person.
The satisfaction of buying awakens the sensation of renewal and happiness which justifies every cent. We buy the feeling of confidence. It breaks our feeling of loneliness and emptiness.
In retrospect, when the monthly statement arrives, we quickly realize that most of our purchases arose not from real needs, but from competitive social needs that were “floating in the air,” so to speak, overwhelming us in a momentary fervor. In fact, if it were not for the social pressure, our desire for buying would decrease.
However, there is no problem with shopping. It is great to see people enjoying a collective activity, because by doing so they learn how their participation gives them a sense of enjoyment and empowerment. However, beyond materialistic cravings, if we dig into a deeper layer, the shopping holidays express signs of communication among people: the tendency for connection latent in every person. This tendency awakens when there is an opportunity to execute a collective activity that we can enjoy from.
In a matter of days or weeks, most of the items would be returned, stored or thrown out, as the data shows, but the challenge of the joint effort remained engraved in people’s memory.
Therefore, we can hope that various shopping-focused days will leave an impression on us, through which we will recognize the need to strengthen our connections. We will then be able to say that we have harnessed the culture of consumption to the service of the people, and not vice versa.
The Endless Quest For Pleasures
Human nature is a desire to receive pleasure. It drives us to constantly seek sources of pleasure, and it leads us to a trap: as soon as the desire is fulfilled, a bigger desire surfaces, and once again, emptiness and lack dominates our lives.
In the past, people found pleasure not only in the act of shopping, but in the very process of yearning for and acquiring things. In travel, too, regardless of the places visited, the simple tasting of different places was exciting.
The difficulty we went through to experience certain pleasures made us value them more. In the modern era, however, the world can be accessed instantly through our smartphones. Therefore, the accumulation of material possessions becomes less attractive when the anticipation toward the purchase is cut down into an impulsive instant.
The Source of True and Lasting Fulfillment
We are currently undergoing a major transitional process. In this process, we feel the failure of trying to fulfill ourselves with material goods and travels.
The more abundant our world becomes with gadgets and products, the emptier, lonelier, more depressed, anxious and stressed we become. We experience more and more negative sensations today because we see the purposelessness, meaninglessness and emptiness of our accomplishments.
Myriad problems in human society will play their role to raise awareness of why we fail to achieve an authentic and lasting form of satisfaction. Eventually, we will realize that the solution is in a fundamental shift of our values: from competitive, individualistic and egoistic values to cooperative, connected and altruistic ones.
When the desire to enjoy is redirected, when we stop aiming to fulfill ourselves individually, and start aiming to fulfill others, although we see no direct benefit in fulfilling others, it is the key to never-ending happiness.
Kabbalists discovered that behind what we envision as pleasure, there is a source of happiness, an opposite desire to our own nature, which is a quality of giving, love and connection. When we try to emulate this quality, by trying to give, love and positively connect with others, then it operates on us, gradually changing us, balancing us more and more with the original nature of giving, love and connection.
Moreover, the more we balance ourselves with others, the happier we become. Such happiness is no passing fad.
It is boundless and eternal.