Our perpetually unsatiated consumerism—fuelled by the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side mentality—is destroying us and Mother Earth. But all is still not lost, says Nnaumrata Arora Singh
Let us move to another house; we have been here for too long.” “I need some new clothes; need to change my look.” “My phone is ancient now; I need to buy a new one.” “I am bored of going to the same shop; let us try the one at the other end of town today.” Sounds familiar?
If you consider the commonality amongst all these statements, you will find embedded, the desire to be in ‘another’ place or do ‘another’ thing and find ‘another’ way of being. There is a desire to change the status quo and a discomfort with ‘what is’. While this quest for ‘another’ is often where innovation takes place, the alternate reality this obsession with ‘another’ creates, often results in situations which could be catastrophic in the long run.
Being in the world enamoured by ‘another’, takes us to a place or situation far off into the future, often leading us to believe that what lies there is somehow better than here. So much so that it induces feelings of pain and suffering by being in the present because we are constantly comparing our current situation to something else which is not real, at least not yet. What is also notable about this quest for another is that it takes away the joy of being in the present moment, preventing us from appreciating and being grateful for things and people around us. If we think about it, we are constantly engaged in thoughts about the past or the future, and in the process of trying to get to ‘another place’, we fail to appreciate and marvel at what we have.
Happiness researchers use a term called ‘hedonic adoption’ which refers to the fact that once we acquire something or have an experience, we tend to ‘outgrow’ it. So, something that at one point in time we believed would give us pleasure, no longer appeals to us. Think of the time when you really craved to buy a certain object—perhaps a musical instrument or even a piece of chocolate. The moment that event was complete, your happiness level went down. In some cases, it is quick; in others, like in the case of marriages for some, it is gradual. Hence, being disenchanted with your partner after some time has nothing to do with you or your partner; it is simply the nature of things.
So what does this tell us about our cravings and quests for ‘another’ thing or place or person? Simply that ‘another’ is an illusion created by the mind, that engages us and entertains us by way of fleeting thoughts that are, many times, not even ours. We often wonder where a certain thought came from, why we thought of something at a certain time, and tend to believe it is our ‘original’ idea. It is amazing to know how many businesses thrive on the notion of ‘originality’ and patents and copyrights, and related lawsuits become a money exchange platform in the name of ‘mine’.
The reality (informed by a Buddhist understanding of the Universe) is that we are all interconnected and so are our thoughts. Some of us might have experienced telepathy with another person at some point. If we think of someone, it is not uncommon for that person, especially if we share a deep connection, to call us or send us a message or say they were just thinking about reaching out to us. While science is working on determining how such events are brought about, we continue to marvel at people who are mind readers and psychics and have basically learnt to tune into these gifts, which in fact, each of us possesses.
Catching ideas from the ether
So, is it possible that we get ideas because they popped into someone else’s mind and our mind just caught these ideas that were floating by? If that might be the case, is it possible that the alternate state that we find ourselves wanting to be in is, in fact, something that someone else might be living or thinking about?
Being in the ‘another’ zone does that to us. It connects us with thoughts and ideas that make us believe we need to be someone else or do something else while experiencing dissatisfaction with our own situation.
The automatic thought that comes to mind is that if it were not for this fetish of ours for ‘improving’ our current state of being, we might not have had so many inventions or might not have been able to lead the lives we live today. While this might be true, this does merit closer examination.
Let us take a look at what this is doing to relationships today. We are living in a world where we are seeing a massive epidemic of loneliness with a breakdown of family structures and short-lived marriages leading to divorces, mostly caused by a belief that ‘another’ person or place is better than whoever is currently with us. How is this impacting our children? When parents are preoccupied with ‘another’ world via their smartphones or TV, children learn to adapt and resort to their version of ‘another’, which is the iPad or TV or another gadget. Where does all this lead us? It is not shocking then that we are seeing an alarming rise in the levels of unhappiness, loneliness, and sickness; more animosity, hate, and violence; and a rise in the number of suicides.
Fetish for another and its cost to the planet
Let us pause for a minute and think about what is going on with our planet today. To be able to change our look, we would go and get a different haircut or buy some new clothes. To find another place, we would travel and perhaps even relocate with bag and baggage. To taste another cuisine, we would go to a restaurant and spend money. This obsession is what propels people into addictive behaviours of thoughtless spending and acquiring, and heightens consumerism in humongous proportions. So, basically, this ‘another’ fetish is what is really powering consumerism and helping corporations make billions and become rich.
As a result of this, our marine life is drowning in plastics. We have trash everywhere, and countries are now waking up to this impending disaster. The root cause of this condition that our planet is in today is that too many of us are buying too many things, hence boosting production of more and more things, which, most times, we don’t even need. Think about it. Do we really need chips or soda bottles or cookies or those expensive breakable showpieces? We don’t really need these for our survival. When did we start needing a slice of packaged cheese? Only when we saw an advertisement which gave us the promise of a great taste and aroused our curiosity to try it by playing with our emotions using music and an appealing story, did we feel the need to buy it. If we had known the amount of water consumed and plastics manufactured to make one packet of chips or cheese and its contribution to global warming, we might have thought twice about buying it.
Sharing this information, however, is not in the best interest of large corporations, as we might well imagine. Buying things is our way of indulging in our quest for ‘another’, influenced by very intelligently crafted TV commercials, which, in turn, are funded by large corporations. This is what is really making our planet deprived of its precious natural resources. We will be unable to make up for the damage done if we do not awaken to the reality that, in order to support the current population on the earth, we need 1.7 times the resources available on our planet today.
Realising that we have been contributing to the state of the planet today can be disturbing, but the good news is that all is not lost yet and there is hope. We are, today, seeing a rapid rise in citizen activism around the globe, with activities like litter pick up (a famous one being Lilly’s Plastic Pick Up led by an eight-year old), plogging (picking up litter while jogging), beach clean-up drives, as those led by Afroz Shah in Mumbai, efforts to clean up lakes and rivers, forest walks as those organised by Healing Forests to help people connect with nature, and bans on the use of single-use plastic. We are seeing a rise in bulk-buying behaviour or consumers turning toward organic farmers’ markets, families leaving cities, moving towards dwellings in nature, and a rapid rise of the recycling industry.
Paul Hawken, a world-renowned environmentalist, entrepreneur, author, and activist estimates that today, over two million organisations are working around the globe on the issue of climate change. Not every one of us can imagine being an activist, but there is one thing that each of us can do. We can start by being grateful for what we have today and appreciate our present every day. This will enable us to pause and think every time the thought of ‘another’ crosses our mind.
As the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (on being asked how to save our world) said, “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the earth crying.’ Can you?
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