Thursday, March 12, 2015

Prescribed living invites doctors’ prescription

Mass production, mass consumption and resultant mass monotony has resulted in mass depression.

Realizing that the French people would judge him for how happy and satisfied they felt with life during his presidency, Nicholas Sarkozy had hired some of the best brains to construct a measure of progress that went beyond GDP, and instead took into account the wellbeing of its people. It was in 2007 and since then many developed countries like Germany, Australia and Canada and some states in the USA have adopted new ways of measuring progress. The trend has slowly catching on.  

The wellbeing measures may not be perfect, yet it reflects a growing realization that economic growth and its manifestation of materialism is making millions of people joyless, anxious and, even worse, depressed. Far from resolving economic stagnation, mass production and mass consumption has resulted in mass depression. The resultant mass monotony of mass produced products has accentuated demand for new products which in turn has triggered status anxiety leading to over-consumption and over-stuffing. Diminishing marginal utility notwithstanding, multiple influences work on people to stuff their wardrobes with clothes they may not wear and homes with products which are put to use once in a while. 

Like obesity, stuffocation is turning out to be yet another epidemic. Lifting the veil on why we live the way we live, trend forecaster James Wallman constructs the compulsive history and the obsessive psychology of over-stuffing and its dreaded consequences, both on the environment and well being. It was the future president of United States, Herbert Hoover, who had planted the idea of ‘creating desire’ through advertisement as early as in 1925. By revolutionizing the counterintuitive idea that becoming prosperous is not by saving but by spending, the sagging future of the US economy could be revived. The result was a society where people thought of quantity of stuff first, and quality of life as only an afterthought.  

While sympathetic to excessive consumerism, Stuffocation provides insights on the emerging trend of de-stuffing wherein materialism is consciously being replaced with ‘minimalism’ through creative and imaginative experiments. More and more people are now realizing that they would be better off if they lived more simply – with less stuff. In numbers, around 40 million in the UK and 240 million in the US are actively ‘de-stuffocating’, opting for a life with fewer material things. That ‘prescribed living invites doctors’ prescription only’ is slowly dawning.  

Using true life stories Wallman demonstrates that consumerism has become a virtual game of snakes and ladders. The constant advertisement bombardment leaves us feeling always at the bottom of the pile looking up. And that, in a meritocratic system like ours, leaves us feeling anxious, stressed, and depressed. Yet, there are the likes of Nicodemus, Millburn and Cantwell who have devised ingenious solutions to possess only as much as was needed. Howsoever enlightening new way of living might seem, status quoist would find it less inspiring.  

Wallman is pragmatic about his manifesto for change. The solution to stuffocation is more than just throwing out the stuff and slowing down the materialistic machine. More than anything else, it needs a cultural transformation, a change in human aspirations. Stuffocation is not only inspiring and persuasive, but provocatively clever.  

Stuffocation: Living More With Less 
by James Wallman
Penguin, UK
Extent: 358, Price: £9.99 

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