Existential Psychology

Gratitude in a Consumer Culture

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There is a simple explanation for why many of us have so much, yet despite a standard of living and material wealth undreamed of by past generations of humanity, feel very little gratitude. It’s that our underlying attitudes are shaped by the culture in which we live, and we live in a consumer culture, one whose very survival is based on a moral imperative of ever increasing consumption.

The system wouldn’t work if you could buy one product and be happy with it for the rest of your life. Therefore all sorts of psychological pressures abound, compelling you to always strive after the latest and greatest, to want more, to get the bigger house, the faster car, the better flat screen television.

It follows that you’re not going to feel much gratitude for what you already have when our entire cultural paradigm is geared towards making you believe that you need more. The flawed logic in this setup is hopefully pretty obvious, since material wealth and the correlated objects of consumption lie on a continuum, where you could ostensibly always have more than wherever you currently have. If you don’t feel gratitude with what you have now what makes you think you’ll feel gratitude when you get a little more? The likely scenario is that you’ll find yourself in the same emotional place, compelled by powerful psychological forces to keep increasing your wealth and material possessions in the hope that at some unforeseen point they will finally feel like enough.

Rather than gratitude at every point on the continuum, what you are likely to feel is the same thing you feel now, a compulsive need to have more. This is what our culture needs you to believe in order to keep you buying, to keep the economy not just running but expanding.

The conclusion from all of this is that until you shift your attitude to focus on the miracles of your existence that don’t have a price tag, and consider all the various objects of consumption as icing on the cake to be grateful for regardless of where you lie on the continuum, gratitude is likely to elude you. You’ll pass your life in the never ending cycle of always wanting more, only satisfied for very brief periods after a purchase, at which point that old familiar feeling will creep back in, telling you what you have isn’t good enough.