Somehow I missed The Story of Stuff, but found it today thanks to a right-wing blog’s annual roundup, which says it was “created…to promote Marxism.” I watched it carefully, and failed to see anything vaguely socialist, or even anti-market, unless you count as socialist the idea of including the externalized costs of pollution, resource destruction, healthcare, and waste disposal in the price of something. Take 20 minutes and watch it; it isn’t Michael Moore angry – it just covers the whole consumer cycle and its bad effects on our health and happiness understandably.
Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Pope John Paul II said (in 1991)
It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.
All world religions agree with this point of view, and research has shown that, world-wide, there is a rather low level of income, between $10,000 and $15,000 US, beyond which we are not happier. Once we have enough for food, shelter, health care, more money doesn’t make us happier. Americans have not gotten significantly happier since the 1970s, years in which we have been accumulating more, bigger, more complicated stuff, eating more and fancier, spending more on health care.
This Pew study comes to the conclusion that the largest predictor of happiness is health; so perhaps it is true that if you have your health you have everything. But so much research these days also shows that what you believe and how stressed you are affects your health. Perhaps 2010 will be the year that Americans in large numbers realize that our desire creates our unhappiness, and feeding the desire with things will not decrease it.
The “disagreeableness” that has arisen is merely a mental attitude of aversion, coagulating around a particular feeling of displeasure, which co-arises with the cognizing of a particular sensory object. The attitude is a product of one’s dispositions, which are themselves nothing more than patterns of learned responses that have built up during a lifetime (or more) of acting and reacting in the world.
Such a breakthrough in understanding allows for a dramatic and immediate liberation of the mind from the coercion of desire–both the desire to hold on to what is deemed agreeable and the desire to push away what is disagreeable. When one realizes that the arising feeling is one thing, while the attitude generated in response to it is something else entirely, the chain of compulsive causation is broken and a moment of freedom is born.
One can now choose to respond differently, and the agreeable/disagreeable attitude that forms the warp and woof of our suffering can be replaced by something capable of embracing both pleasure and pain without reaction. Serene, yet radically intimate with experience, we can, like the Buddha, abide in any moment with the hint of a smile on our lips.