by Glenn Soenvisen
In the contemporary societies of developed countries, most people agree that every individual should be equal to one another: we should have the same rights and possibilities in life no matter who you are and where you come from. Isn’t it strange, then, that we still struggle with poverty, hunger, racism and gender issues, not only in the world as a whole, but in our own respective countries as well? “In principle it’s easy, but you can’t apply any kind of idealism to the real world,” you might argue, and I would have to agree, because indeed, nothing is perfect; there will always be inequalities.
However, I would argue that we are nowhere near perfection in regards to equality issues, and therefore able to lessen these issues tremendously by doing simply one thing: to turn from greedy materialism to moderate abstemiousness and munificence, not only of food, but of everything that the term “materialism” includes – and money. I would even say this approach will increase our happiness in the long run. This text is especially for those that are better-off in our societies.
Just think about when you were most happy in your life: people, even the relatively young ones, reminisce about their their childhood and teens; for elderly people it’s a trademark to do so. Then, what is it that makes us so incredibly happy in our earlier years? I would say it is forced abstemiousness. Remember that doll your parents didn’t buy for you, but gave you as a present on your birthday later that year? Or the time when you finally bought the video game you couldn’t afford after weeks of saving up money? Oh, how worn that doll is now and oh, how many times you played through that game, and most important of all: oh, how you enjoyed it.
Then you grew up, and finally you could mindlessly indulge in your hobbies and interests. Maybe you’re sitting there with a collection of rarely touched, clean dolls on display, or have a whole shelf lined with unplayed and half-finished games wondering where the happiness you had as a child has gone. In short, money spent on yourself can only go so far in making you happy. You don’t need twelve pair of shoes; you don’t need the newest version of iPhone; you don’t need two two-weeks’ vacations a year in Spain at a luxurious hotel; you don’t need everything you buy.
However, we all know that spending money on other people is a delightful feeling: we all like to make one’s girlfriend/boyfriend happy by taking them to a movie or dinner, for example. Even so, this too has its limits regarding happiness. If you spend too much, you’d be worrying if you are dating a gold-digger only after your money, and unless the other person actually is that, he/she would likely feel guilty for accepting your expenditure on him/her.
So what should you do with the leftover money (that is, if you have any)? If you’ve decided to become abstemious yourself and munificent towards your dearest, surely you could put them in a bank for interest along with your other funds, or maybe invest them into stocks to earn even more. But what’s the point? What we’re talking about is leftover money. Why do you need more? You could spend it on insurances and other measures for social security, but considering you have the leftover money in the first place there’s no particular need for that. In short, money can’t do anything more for you; it can’t increase your happiness.
Then, what should you do? I, for one, would say that you should spend it on social welfare. Not only does it benefit you, but it benefits the society as a whole. Donate money to voluntary organizations, vote for higher taxes, and buy a meal to a poor person.
These small things that all of us are able to do to some degree are certainly not going to change our societies in a flash. Inequalities won’t disappear overnight. However, there are benefits: by buying less, massive international corporations will have less incentive to press prices down and move production to impoverished areas. By spending leftover money on social welfare, you will firstly help to reduce social exclusion, which is an important factor for being able to make social contacts and get a job. Secondly, you will help to increase the social security in a non-radical way. Thirdly, you help making social issues known through the support of organizations who promote them. In short, you help people to be able to acquire the same rights and possibilities as yourself, and you hinder people living in impoverished areas to be trapped by long hours of hard work and low income.
You might not see much to the results of your support, but changes cannot always be radical. They cannot always be “neither/nor,” like many social movements portray solutions to issues, since that would throw a society in complete turmoil. Instead, inequalities will gradually lessen through abstemiousness and munificence, which hopefully will seep into our heads and become the norm. In the end, you’ll get happier and you’ll help both yourself and others to stand on equal footing.
- How can we build an “equal” society? (japansociology.com)
- Middle aged and elderly unrepentant as abstemious young abandon the daily drink, study suggests (telegraph.co.uk)
- Op-Ed Columnist: Inequality for Dummies (nytimes.com)