Too much stuff

What does success mean to you? For most people, and I bet this includes you, success is measured by the accumulation of monetary and material things. So when in our evolutionary history did this start? Why would this accumulation of things become our measure of a person? Humans have lived in family and societal associations for hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps for a couple of million. The group worked together sharing knowledge to ensure survival and with that came innovation, invention and advancements that made life a little bit easier with small incremental improvements over the eons.

In essence we still do this, but on a grand and rapid scale.  While competition and innovation creates new and better things, how many brands of shampoo do we really need?  We now believe that we need all this stuff to survive. Good advertising does this. And with that comes increasing volumes of waste, garbage and accumulation of pollutants around the globe. Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean there is a gigantic gyre of minute pieces of plastic floating around, heavy metals contaminate our food and oceans, we create immense volumes of garbage and our atmosphere is filling to dangerous levels of CO2.  The trap of consumerism and our insatiable appetite for more stuff ensures this will continue. The following animated, award-winning documentary puts our craving for more stuff in perspective. You will see yourself in it (I did). (story of stuff).

It is amazing to talk to older folks who have lived in times that did not have such an array of gadgets and many of today’s so-called necessities. (I am now considered to be in this category by my kids). It doesn’t mean we must live like Minimalist (less stuff), although some may want to, it just refocuses our resources and ingenuity to what is really important and tones-down our use of inventions to what is truly useful. Henry David Thoreau stated in his book, Walden, (1854), “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things“.  Imagine his thought from the perspective of the mid 1800’s and what Thoreau could have been referring to. What would he think of us now?

 I once saw a bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys – wins”. This is an interesting thought coming from the jacked-up bumper  on a  gas guzzling, 4-wheeler, chrome everything, behemoth of a truck. Somehow all these toys and the trivial stuff in our lives has become important.   It is difficult not to be caught up and swept away in it, even if you try not to because entire societies and most of the world, as we see it, operates this way.  This has become our measure of success – but not everywhere. 

The tiny Buddhist nation of Bhutan, however, adopted  the Gross National Happiness index in 1973 to measure the health of their country. They realized decades ago that the GDP (gross domestic product is a measure of our economic system by the production of goods and services) is a false measure of economic, social and environmental health. Instead Bhutan adopted a “new development paradigm” for the world to consider. Before you brush this off as something to be expected from a contemplative and passive Buddhist country, consider that the UN is giving this idea traction. The report, Happiness: Towards a New Development Paradigm was submitted  to the UN in December 2013.

The NDP is grounded in the principles of Gross National Happiness – the unique vision of human development first proposed by the King of Bhutan, in the early 1970s when he declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” (accessed from:New Development Paradigm) (Happiness). Wow! – not even close to our measure of success. Bhutan has it right while we are mired in an archaic economic system that exploits people and is based upon the destruction of the natural environment all in the pursuit of money and our false version of success and happiness.

Can we get along with less stuff? – certainly. And we don’t need blogs either – or do we? At least this caused you to think about it. Now I am going to recycle something from my basement, and there is a lot of accumulated stuff down there…

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