Can companies ruin happiness for us?

When I begin to think of how many of my deeply held beliefs and life expectations exist solely because of clever marketing – I can’t help but feel a bit conned and even a little nauseous. Think about it. Brands and marketing companies work very hard to make us want their products, of course, but the most sneaky ones are skilled at slowly and clandestinely using their abundant revenue and well-paid brightest minds to transform our entire cultural norms, customs, expectations and therefore, often, our very personal definition of happiness and fulfilment.

As someone who has travelled a fair amount and has lived in a few different cultures, I have had the opportunity to notice that sometimes what I was groomed to believe as essential for my happiness, something I would agonise over and stress over in order to obtain… isn’t worth much in other cultures, and can even be seen as unnecessary or irrelevant.

How can this be? Well, it’s just different cultural values, you might say. Precisely. When a corporation defines what you value, there is a basic conflict of interest in the equation. You are working hard to make them money. You are stressing over it, it’s important to you – your image depends on it, but essentially its meaningless. Do you really value and NEED what this corporation is selling (ok, well, when I think of pumpkin spice lattes…maybe I do need…), or did they alter your perception to make you (and everyone around you) believe that what they sell is essential to living a worthwhile life? How can you tell? The combination of capitalism and psychology can seriously be scary.

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This is a cute dog who doesn’t care if you’re wearing an expensive coat. Only about cuddles.

And the way to win at this isn’t to try to ‘get a good deal’ on that $200 anti-wrinkle cream (take that, corporation!) or to obtain it more effortlessly than others. The only way to win is to let go of your need for it and realise that your sense of worth and fulfilment and happiness come from within. And not from an expensive manicure, an expensive designer sweater, or a diamond ring. So sure, there’s nothing wrong with buying it, if you wish. But don’t confuse happiness and contentment with…being sold unnecessary things and the psychological connection you make with them.

The very basic truth, that I think we all know, but maybe sometimes find it scary to recognise, is that fulfilment and happiness are free. You can’t buy them, because they come from your psychology and your perception, which can take work. It can take real work to accept yourself just the way you are, without make-up, for example. That’s why it can be scary, and it’s easier to just dish out your money on endless things.

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These guys don’t care about ‘stuff’ either.

Diamonds are actually worthless
In my mind, the diamond industry is an especially egregious offender here – these guys are basically trying to ruin love for all of us! (And I really hate that!) Most people know that the requirement for an expensive engagement ring began in 1948 with their ‘Diamond is Forever’ campaign, which told men that the proper thing to do is spend 3 months’ salary on the ring. And the rhetoric and cultural penetration doesn’t stop there – I was recently at a panel event about the diamond industry and could provide you with direct quotes of De Beers execs stating that your love for your fiancée or wife is worth less if the diamond is small, or telling the women in the audience that if they don’t get huge rings then maybe their partner is not worthy. They might say it tongue in cheek, but they still say it. They literally want to make people feel bad about their relationships so that they can sell them a product to fix it!

And the thing is, it has worked so well! It is very expected and normal to drop at least $4-$5 grand on a ring in the US. It makes young couples go in debt and distracts them from focusing on what’s actually important in their relationship. Gee, that’s so kind of you, De Beers.

The reason I write about this now, is because I went through an entire psychological journey of ‘getting over’ the ring issue. When I first got engaged, this seemed so important to me. I wanted a nice ring. I knew in the back of my mind that it shouldn’t matter – but it did. And that’s the scary power of advertising and cultural influence of these companies. I did everything I could to make sure I get the ring that I wanted. I put actual effort and energy into it. I seriously worked hard to make these people money. Funny thing is, I did so much reading about it, came to realisation that the ring is just a marketing ploy, and by the time I got my ring, I almost didn’t want it anymore. I realised it wasn’t important. I started looking at it kind of funny, with dread, and feeling a bit guilty. Now I, of course, associate it with my commitment to my partner – but I do it cautiously. I know that it’s not the ring that’s actually meaningful. It’s our relationship. The ring is just a symbol. We could choose other things to symbolise our love for one another – like baking a cake, or giving our partner a puppy!

But seriously, what I am a huge fan of is recycling old family rings, and also using unconventional stones for your ring, like other gems that are less expensive and are not as gimmicky.

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Weddings don’t have to cost $35,000, either!

Being choosy about where you work
I like to carry these convictions and realisations through as many parts of my life as I find possible and not only in consumer behaviour. It would be hypocritical to blame these companies for negatively influencing society to enrich themselves while I go work for a company that does just that. So before I decide to give my time and energy to an employer, I ask myself: Is what they are putting out into the world benefitting people? Is it making our lives better? Or is it simply exploiting a human weakness to make a buck? Of course, sometimes the answer is not clear, but many times it is.
Bottom line
Sure, rings are cool. They can be beautiful and help their wearer make a statement, and even remind them of their love for their spouse. But that’s all they are – just a piece of metal, that’s not really worth much of anything. At least not more than the real stuff of life – like family, relationships, being kind, you get the idea.. And definitely not worth going in debt for in order to portray an artificial image devised by a diamond company.

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