‘The things you own end up owning you.’

Consumerism information here.

  • Ask students to discuss what could be the nicest thing(s) to own. What is the coolest object/thing currently available to buy and how much do they want it?
  • Ask students, in small groups, to discuss the relationship between possessions and happiness. Can objects make us truly happy? Would the poor be happier with more money? Could a peasant farmer or a monk with no possessions be happy? Point out that as Western countries like the UK have become materially richer, the number of people suffering from depression has increased. Why might this be?
  • Play clip from ‘Fight Club’ about consumerism, containing the line “the things you own end up owning you.” (N.B. there is some bad language in this clip).
  • Discuss the idea that the things we own will end up owning us. What do they think about that? How would they react if a natural disaster destroyed all of their possessions?
  • Using the consumerism information, introduce students to the ideas of ‘the hedonic treadmill’ and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. What do they think about them? Do they have any personal examples? (Perhaps use ‘I saw you coming’ clip bearing in mind, again, that there is some bad language in this clip.)

Antidotes to conspicuous consumption

  • Look at the Life² ‘Better than shopping’ list.
  • Marks out of 10: ask students to award themselves marks out of 10 against this list: how well do they avoid excessive consumption and shopping?
  • Ask students to consider the idea of a ‘buy nothing day’. What do they think? What would the benefits and drawbacks be? Would one outweigh the other?
  • Look at Barry Schwartz’s advice on maximising versus satisficing.
  • Ask students what they think of his suggestions.

Prep: ask students to either try one (or more) of the items on the ‘Better than shopping’ list, or try a ‘buy nothing day’ if they are compulsive consumers and write about their experiences.