Tuesday, December 16, 2003

It's always nice to find confirmation of one's own beliefs. I have long thought people were making themselves miserable by adopting the ambitious, competitive, restlessly dissatisfied, extravert American capitalist culture, and this month's Green Futures has articles on just that theme.

“A lot of mental health problems stem from the rise of the individualist, aspirational culture. This means we’re defining ourselves increasingly through external things – what we do, what we own, how much we earn – and through other people. We’re forever comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves wanting.” Oliver James

"This is just a small part of the picture. On a much wider canvas, argues James, the dominant values of Western society are almost literally programming us to be unhappy. He quotes a fascinating piece of work by American psychologist Tim Kassar. “It showed that people who are primarily motivated by ‘materialism’, which in this case means the pursuit of power, status and wealth, are (rather gratifyingly!) much more likely to be unhappy in almost every respect, including being less healthy”, than those who remain resolutely unambitious. [toby: hooray for our side, I have always been resolutely unambitious]It wasn’t just a one-off experiment, James stresses: Kassar reviewed a whole series of studies. “It’s an extraordinary body of evidence. It’s scientifically solid; well-replicated – and hardly ever talked about.” So living in a way that is bad for the planet is, reassuringly, pretty lousy for us as well? “Exactly.”"

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