Over the past 50 years, the standard of living for American families has doubled. Most of these families live in a two-income household in order to acquire the money needed to live up to these standards (Pierce). This change has enabled Americans to own more material possessions and has also caused them to want even more. It is this concept of “wanting” that is leading to the growing problem of over consumption in America. People are contributing to the problem by eating more and buying more and more “non-essentials” such as TVs, computers, and cars.
People find themselves wanting more and more material things in order to become happy, when in actuality it may be having the reverse effect because it is not possible to ever obtain everything that he/she wants (Easterbrook 124). By living more simply we can become happier by spending more time with our families and communities and also by helping others.
In the past, TV was thought to be a way to bring the family together. However, today, more than three quarters of American families own two or more televisions. Having multiple sets causes family members to watch different programs, in separate rooms, pulling the family apart as opposed to bringing them together. Even some children have TV sets in their rooms. Instead of playing outside, kids are spending hour in front of the television (Winn 465-66)
Children are also being affected by other new electronics. High-tech children’s toys are becoming more and more common. Instead of playing outside with other kids, children in our society play video games or play on a computer. Even educational toys are being made electronic. Special laptops are being made for children as young as preschool or kindergarten. This is becoming all that children know. Their generation is growing up reliant on computers. In the future they might not have a choice to relax and live more simply because the high tech world is all they know (Kalson).
Another issue contributing to the problem of over consumption is cars. For some people, owning a car can be necessary. For others, public transportation is an option. Owning one or more cars can also affect the community by using unnecessary amounts of fuel and by polluting. The car also allows us to live a high-speed life. Americans are constantly traveling or working and are not taking the time to relax as we did in the past. America’s fast paced lifestyle is part of the reason we don’t spend as much time with our families and friends as in other cultures (Wilson).
Americans also contribute to over consumption by the amount of food we eat. Obesity is a growing issue in American society today. Twenty percent of children are overweight. If this problem persists, the next generation could be the first in 200 years to have a shorter life expectancy than the last. The greatest issue of this problem is fast food and the portions of it. Instead of eating healthy, home cooked meals, Americans are replacing them with fat and calorie loaded fast foods and precooked meals. This problem is leading towards more health problems. 30 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls born in the year 2000 are expected to have diabetes at some point in their life. Americans can fight this problem by trying to live more like people in other countries by eating healthier foods, smaller portions, and teaching children how to eat right (Mieszkowski).
Part of the reason that Americans have such a large role in this problem might possibly be because of advertising. Because our media is so widely spread and easily accessed, Americans can be more easily persuaded. This issue can also relate back to the problem of watching too much TV. Because the United States has no regulations on advertising, anyone can be affected by any amount of advertising. Children, who are more susceptible, can be manipulated into thinking that they need something that they really don’t. This problem could possibly solved by restricting the amount of advertising or where advertising is aloud. We can also resist this problem being more aware of it. By judging each ad to see if it is coercive, deceptive, or manipulative, we can remove the emotional appeal of the commercial and make a more rational decision (Hirschberg 61-68).
However some people think that over consumption is not the problem:
…(S)quandering money on big screen TVs, McMansions, restaurant meals, oversized cars and luxury vacations… (are not to blame) for insolvency and all those maxed-out credit cards. Instead… (it is)… the high cost of housing and education… (F)ixed expenses that can quickly create a sea of red ink when families face layoffs, illness, or divorce. Skyrocketing health-care costs add to the problem (Gardner).
If Americans started to live more simply, we could not only gain happiness by relaxing and spending more time with our families, but we could also give some of our extra money or belongings to charity. Helping those in need can give us a sense of self worth that could not be obtained by living as we do now. Linda Pierce argues that “simplicity values” are important to enrich a persons life. She states that Limiting material possessions, Meaningful work weather paid or volunteer, relationships with friends and family, pleasurable leisure activities, and a connection to community are good values to strive for in order to live simply (Pierce).
Over consumption is affection all Americans’ lives, especially the lives of children, the next generation:
TV and video games have vanquished running around outside. Kids in the city have too few places to play. And (sic) ids in the suburbs have no sidewalks to walk on, much less places to walk to. Fewer kids walk or ride their bikes to school, either because there’s no safe route, or it’s simply too far. At school, phys ed and recess have been shortened or eliminated, through the double whammy of budget cuts and he renewed emphasis on academic testing. And (sic) many schools sells junk food to kids in the cafeteria in attempt to subsidize shrinking budgets through soft drink and candy bar revenue (Mieszkowski).
The longer this problem goes unsolved, the harder it will be to overcome it. It is important to overcome this problem to gain happiness by gaining leisure time and spending more time with their families and communities and also by helping others in need. If we can accomplish this, Americans can stop associating a “good life” with material possessions but with personal happiness instead.
Gardner, Marilyn. Do two incomes mean deeper debt?. 5 Dec. 2005 http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/CollegeandFamily/P61852.asp.
Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox. New York: Random House, 2003.
Hirschberg, Stuart. The Rhetoric of Advertising
Kalson, Sally. “Study finds toddlers immersed in electronic media.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 29 Oct. 2003: D1.
Mieszkowski, Katharine. “Growing Up Too Fat.” Salon 4 pp. 5 Dec. 2005 http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2005/04/16/kids_obesity/index3.html.
Pierce, Linda Breen. The Simplicity Resource Guide. 5 Dec. 2005 http://www.gallagherpress.com/pierce/overview.htmhttp://www.gallagherpress.com/pierce/overview.htm.
Wilson, James Q. Cars and Theirs Enemies.
Winn, Marie. Television: The Plug-In Drug.