Ever looked closely at the advertisements on the electronic media? A girl in total despair is shown sitting, while the husband walks in with a key to a new house. From then onwards, the advertisement depicts a perfect picture of a happy family living in a cushy house (not home). Anger turns to happiness as a man brings home a new car. A girl looking in total disgust at a boy, who comes to their place asking for her hand. You know what the crime of the boy is? He does not have a new state-of-the-art touch phone. In the next clip, the boy is presenting the new device to the girl and she immediately accepts the proposal. Inadvertently, all the media campaigns have something inherently in common, linking happiness to materialism. Certainly, no room for religion, faith or human attributes, which used to carry more weight not very long time back. We seem to have lost it all!
In today’s world, how do people judge ones worth? Place where we live, the car we drive, institutions where our kids study, number of trips and vacations abroad, designer brands, IPads, smartphones; possess any and you will immediately move into a higher category of social acceptability. Moral values, humanity, integrity and all the other attributes that define an ideal human being carry no value when it comes down to the above mentioned much more powerful monetary attributes. Most of social discussions end up in discussing devices, rather than coming up with Socratic thinking. The writer of this piece once had to leave a social gathering; whereas the discussion revolved around playing Golf as a higher social acceptable attribute while looking down upon people, who were categorised as “paindoos”; an attribute one should actually be proud of for having ones roots intact, instead of floating in the rootless hypocrisy of modernity.
There was an age when the number of honest people outnumbered the wealthy corrupt lot. People generally used to educate their children not to meet the ones whose parents were known to take bribes. The value system was strong, thus filtering these elements from the rest of the lot. Times have changed towards the worst for now; the majority has turned to minority and the one who is labelled as honest is ridiculed for his foolishness and is avoided at all costs. Children are advised to stay away from such “despicable” poor families and are encouraged to move among the “trendy” lot, having higher levels of financial and social acceptability in this age of “enlightenment” and modernisation.
Today, all around us, there are messages telling us to buy stuff. Tune on to any media channel or open up a newspaper or magazine, and one is bombarded by advertisements. Visit any shopping mall and the urge to buy comes from every direction. The message to continually buy, buy and buy so that it can somehow make us happier is drilled into our heads from the start till the day we die. To understand the linkage of materialism to happiness can be a starting point in our quest to define our lives.
Ever wondered where the happiest people in the world live? The most likely answer will be: Europe, US, Australia or Canada. According to the World Value Survey of people in 65 nations, published in the British magazine New Scientist, the world’s happiest countries with the most satisfied people are Puerto Rico and Mexico, and those with the most optimistic people are Nigeria and Mexico. The results defy conventional wisdom. What are these astounding results telling us about happiness? The material prosperity as measured by each nation’s GDP per capita shows US with a GDP per person of $37,800. Let’s compare it with the world’s happiest nations. GDP per person in Puerto Rico is $16,800; in Mexico it is $9,000 and in Nigeria it is $800. Obviously, money or materialism has very little to do with happiness. The two things the happiest nations in the world have in common are a strong sense of community and frequent, enthusiastic community celebration.
What we see around us today are unhappy affluent societies living under the illusion of material possessions; the artificial symbols of happiness. There is a need for all of us to probe deep into our personal materialistic tendencies. As the Swiss writer, Henri Frederic Amiel, puts it: “Materialism coarsens and petrifies everything, making everything vulgar, and every truth false.” Materialism is bad for the soul affecting our emotional wellbeing. Let’s develop ourselves, instead of relying on materialistic factors to define us.
    The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College London and a             social activist. He is life member of the Pakistan Engineering Council and senior             international editor for IT Insight Magazine. He has authored two books titled             Understanding Telecommunications and Living In The Grave and several research papers.
    Email: drirfanzafar@gmail.com
    Blog: drirfanzafar.com