Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Byproduct of Contentment Is Economic Ruin

Woods cross from my house, Munson Park

The pursuit of happiness will leave you perpetually unsatiated. That is its goal.

In America this is especially true, since we have a consumer-driven economy. For our country to stay afloat, people must continually purchase. Spending must increase. As we approach Christmas, sales must be up (which, of course, has nothing to do with the real Christmas).

Products are marketed in terms of the amount of happiness they will produce. (See, e.g., The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being.) The irony is that these products must ultimately produce discontent, so that we want more, or something different, something newer. The economic cycle is never-ending: happy, discontent; happy, discontent; and so on ad infinitum. Wealthy is the nation whose people are unhappy.

Thomas Merton, writing prior to 1966, said:

"If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of the people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything. How would they profit if we became content? We would no longer need their new product. The last thing the salesman wants is for the buyer to become content. You are of no use in our affluent society unless you are always just about the grasp what you never have." (Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander; in Through the Year With Thomas Merton, 198)

The teachings of Jesus and the apostle Paul are bad news for our economy. If the poor became blessed, and Jesus' followers acquired contentment in all circumstances, and knowing Christ became life's greatest thing, then today's money-changers would have their laptops overturned. 

The economic wheel would grind to a halt, and read: blessed, content.