Today’s Depressed Consumerist Generation

How many people, do you think, go on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube in a mindless trance: clicking and scrolling through their news headlines, without any real reason for doing so? What percentage of people who click on on Facebook does this behaviour account for? 50%? 70%? 90%? What has created this behaviour? Do they do it because they’ve unconsciously created a habit that gives them a little “dopamine hit” when they check their newsfeeds again and again? I don’t believe so. I believe that they do it to distract themselves from their feelings of insidious and unrealised depression. But why are they depressed, I hear you ask? They’re depressed because they live in a consumerist world that continually reaffirms what they don’t have, rather than what they have. Every advert, slogan, piece of marketing tells us that we don’t have something which will make us happy.

Rather than spend our time with distractions – the pills we take to try to hide our symptoms – we would be better off spending time to treat the cause.

If, when our minds are still and we have nothing with which to distract ourselves any more, we ruminate back to the things we don’t have: of course we will be unhappy. We start to think of the things we don’t have, and we tell ourselves we’re unhappy. And then we’re unhappy, we remind ourselves why: because of the things we don’t have. As long as we’re in this cycle of thinking, we will forever be unhappy.

The trick to end unhappiness isn’t in trying to stop our journey towards unhappiness. This will always bring us back to stopping the reasons for why we’re unhappy, with two solutions: trying to ignore them (distractions), or satisfy them (but there will always be more reasons for why we’re unhappy waiting in the sidelines to replace those we’ve just satisfied). The trick to end unhappiness is to start our journey towards happiness. Start remembering all the things that we’re grateful for in our lives. Remembering all the things that make us happy.

Humans are silly creatures. We’re always focusing on things we don’t have. We create plans – some of which span years of our life – to try to attain things that we haven’t got. We spend years of our lives, building companies and working in companies to work towards some great vision that resides in our own heads. And when those plans are successful, we have more plans. More incomplete goals.

If we’re constantly focused on our progression, it’s easy to miss what we’ve achieved. If we’re constantly reminded of what we lack, it’s easy to become blind to what we have.

6 Replies to “Today’s Depressed Consumerist Generation”

  1. I’m loving this blog! Its super cool to discuss philosophy and stuff!
    And its really interestingly written and to the point.

    Here’s my question:

    “The trick to end unhappiness is to start our journey towards happiness. Start remembering all the things that we’re grateful for in our lives. Remembering all the things that make us happy.”

    Have you replaced external journeys to happiness with an internal journey where we try to find it by dealing with internal mental irregularities that make us unhappy?

    I agree that the path to happiness starts with the internal world. However, the danger is we just internalise the same problem that we had externally (and you so aptly describe in your post) internally. So that when our mental efforts and mental strategies fail to bring us a lasting sense of contentment, we feel just as bereft of options as before.

    I guess what I am asking for is evidence that this effort towards thankfulness will bring the contentment it promises…

    Thanks again,
    DC

    1. Hi David! Thanks for the kind words, they mean a lot.

      I think I understand what you mean, but not completely sure: especially regarding the internal/external bit. Below is my reply to the interpretation I have of your question, but if you feel like it doesn’t address points in your question, could you use an example of the internal world and external world so that I get a better idea of what you’re asking?

      Reply: “The trick to end unhappiness is to start our journey towards happiness. Start remembering all the things that we’re grateful for in our lives. Remembering all the things that make us happy.” What I mean by this is that, at this point in time, we have things that we don’t have which we would like to have, and we have things that we do have which we enjoy having. Instead of focusing on the things we don’t have, we can choose to focus on the things we do have. I guess this aspect is within the internal path.

      The external path would be in working within the physical world to acquire things we don’t have yet. But if we’re forever focusing on attaining the things we don’t have, we’ll never be satisfied with the things we have. We work in the external world to acquire more stuff, but we should work in the internal world to appreciate all the things we already have.

      So I guess the trap, in my opinion, is internalising the the work we do in the external physical world: where we would begin to ruminate on the things we don’t have in our heads. We’re not doing any work to attain these items while we’re in our own head, we’re only ruminating. Rather, while we’re in our own heads, we should ruminate on being thankful because we’re thankful of the good things we already have.

      I don’t have any evidence for this. You’re right, I should look at attaining some. I guess the process of moving focus from bad to good – advocated in this post – is fairly closely aligned with the process used in cognitive bahavioural therapy (CBT): which is used to successfully treat mental problems: but I’ve literally just made retrospective links to try to justify what I’ve written!

      1. Hey that really clarifies your point! Let me try to explain what I mean by external /internal.

        I understand better what you are talking about. To make us happy (internal reality) We need to sort out what we focus our attention on (internal action) : What we do have rather than what we don’t have (external reality based on external actions).

        Surely you are correct that by focusing it on what we have, we improve our mental health as we replace a negative cycle with a positive one. This is broadly in line with CBT as you say.

        However there is a philosophical problem. We are applying CBT style strategies (internal action) to effect an internal change, to increase our happiness (or at least our perceived happiness/mental health however that is defined). As we apply these strategies we will increasingly desire to have more happiness, and so our anxiety about our internal reality increases.

        Basically we ruminate about about the mental wellness we have and the mental wellness that we don’t have and are in the same place we were before. This is a particular problem for those of an anxious disposition and prone to mental health problems.

        But for the rest of us, this probably appears to be splitting hairs, surely as long as we are thankful everything will work out right. Isn’t CBT living proof of this?

        Well, yes, if the goal is mental health as defined by CBT. But is being “mentally healthy”, as important as it is, something we can equate to true happiness?

        Here is the opposing philosophical approach as I see it:

        Happiness, in fact, does not rely on our actions, whether external or internal. It is something that must be given to us. We then have the option, then, to screw it up by not being thankful!

        When I think about this does not actually contradict anything you are saying explicitly. But perhaps it challenges the direction of the philosophy.

        It perhaps suggests that we need less mindfulness clinics and CBT sessions if we want to be happier people (as important as this is in certain situations) but instead ask the question “what is the true giver of happiness”. If we had more certainty and clarity about this it would help us to receive and be thankful for the happiness we get.

        Of course this often leads to the consumerism and anxiety you were challenging in your post. But perhaps seeking happiness is not wrong, but there are better and worse ways of seeking it.

        What your ideas suggest, it think, is less of a reliance on self-giving, individualistic sources of happiness (the heart of a consumerism, no?) because it tends to lead us more towards failed thankfulness – as we can’t thank ourselves and we’re not very good at making ourselves happy anyway.

        I would say that one way happiness is given, in a paradoxical way, when we give happiness to others ( the reverse of consumerism).

        SO MUCH TEXT! but I wanted to fill out my ideas – sorry!

        1. Yeh, good points. I read your comment yesterday but wanted a bit of time to think on it. I believe there is still a valid answer using a mindfulness/CBT approach…

          Mindfulness/CBT is a tool in our journey towards happiness. However, as it is a tool, our relationship with it is different to that of our relationship with happiness. I’d like to give a personal example:

          A few weeks ago a dog was barking outside our flat but I had learnt to just notice it, and not be affected by it. There’s a phrase I like in these situations: “if the rain washes out a picnic, who’s annoyed: you or the rain? It’s not nature that is bad, it is our judgement of nature, saying “this is bad” and “this is good” that make it bad”. So anyway, I just allowed the dog to bark. But my housemate started getting really agitated. “That F***ing dog will never shut up!!!” And his reaction – creating a bad “vibe” in the house – then made me react negatively: “oh, here he goes again, on another rant.” I was then in a bad mood. Did anything change? No… the object that I made a judgement on just was one step along the line of an infinite chain of reactions that could have happened from the dog barking. The solution is the same: just allowing my housemate (instead of the dog this time) to rant without making any judgement. Sometimes different objects can trick us into working in different domains, when really they’re the same. In this, parallels can be drawn: the dog barking can be our “happiness”, my housemate getting angry can be “our perception of our mental health”. We will see that, at least in my analogy, happiness and our perception of mental health are different perspectives of the same object. The process for dealing with them remains the same, even though sometimes we think it changes. Here’s what I think is the problem: when we “ruminate about about the mental wellness we have and the mental wellness that we don’t have and are in the same place we were before”, we think that we’ve now got a problem with the rumination of rumination: it’s a higher level process that controls the lower level process of rumination, right? This is, in my opinion, the incorrect assumption. Rumination of rumination is still rumination. It isn’t a higher level process, it is on the same level. So we can use the same technique to overcome it.

          With regard to needing to thank someone… actually, I don’t believe that we need anyone to be happy (I’m very selfish in that way!). I think that if we rely on others to be happy, it could be our downfall. However, this is where God comes into play: because belief in God will change our interaction with appreciation. If I’m just going for a walk and it’s a nice day, I can just appreciate the nice day. To me, I can sometimes use God as a symbol that represents someone to be thankful to, but I don’t actually believe in God. He’s just a symbol. So I don’t rely on God to be thankful to. If you believe in God, you will always be thankful to him/her for the nice things in your life. Neither, in my opinion, is the correct way of doing things, it just changes your interaction with appreciation.

          1. Hey super cool! Thank you for taking time to think through my points. Its great to develop these ides.

            Next time we see each other we should have a proper chat. It would be fun to discuss these things with a bit more interactivity.

            I’ll try to keep up with your other blog posts as well.

            Just to summarise what I think you are saying:

            Mindfulness is less of a “technique” and more of a perspective. If we put value judgement on things it leads to unhappiness . So we need a less value based outlook – this answers the question about the possibility of ruminating about ruminating, because this outlook/perspective precludes that response – kind of how you ignored the dog, and in the meta-situation you ignored housemates response to the dog.

            This approach is perhaps Buddhist in flavour (we the deny our perceived reality of the world to remove our suffering). I suppose as a Christian, I have loyalty to an essential truth and meaning to our experiences and that to judge something good or bad is an essential part of life on some level- it is interesting you raise the idea of God being someone you would thank.

            That said, I certainly am not against CBT or mindfulness per say, In my life I have people close to me, who are Christians an use it and approve of it. I think the techniques themselves can be valid whichever perspective you are coming to it with. It is interesting to discuss the philosophical dimensions of the ideas behind the techniques however.

            Its nice to have a bit of time at the weekend to talk deep things!

            I’m looking forward to seeing you at my stag do when that comes around.

          2. Yeh I just realised I was using “Christian” attitudes (focus on good, rather than bad) and then switched to more mindfulness for response no.2! They kinda contradict a bit, huh? But yeh, it’s good to chat 🙂 Definitely up for talking about it at your stag!

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