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Post Consumerism: Era of Wellbeing Economics?

We continue to explore the shifting values in our society, following our previous post on The Citizen Consumer. Decades of increasingly making “consumption our way of life” that was spurred on by government and corporations have led us to believe that we can seek “our spiritual satisfaction or our ego satisfaction” in consumption. Now, the glass ball is starting to crack. There is a confluence of events — economic collapse, overwhelming environmental challenges, and a growing digital democracy that is enabling a new social wealth — that is shaping our society. Where are we headed?

Jules Peck discusses this paradigm shift in his thought-provoking draft book Citizen Renaissance. He explored consumption fatigue, the return of citizenship, and the rise of wellbeing economics.

There are signs that the public are tired of waiting for politics and business to blink first. Across the world, community organizations and individuals are making efforts to effect profound changes to the way we live. Whether this is through the rise of Fairtrade and organic produce or the more active community projects that search for solutions to ecological problems, statistics show that more people are waking up to the social and environmental crises and are prepared to work for change.

In a recent US study, 19% of people from across social classes had voluntarily changed their lives and made less money . A study in Australia found 23% of 30–60 year olds having downshifted in this way. Downshifting involves people voluntarily accepting a drop in their income in order to rebalance their lives – often in order to regain control over time and to improve their personal relationships. Research suggests that in the UK, 20–35% of adults aged 30–59 have downshifted and the average income for downshifters fell by 40%. Furthermore, the same study found that not all downshifters are wealthy or middle-aged – in fact they are spread across all age groups and social grades, albeit unsurprisingly with fewer in socio-economic group E. UK insurance company Prudential has found that 1.4m Britons have actively reduced their income for increased quality of life recently and just under 1m 35–54 year olds plan to do so. Downshifting is one of the most demonstrable signs of the Wellbeing Imperative.

There are also indications that Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about the effects they are having on the environment. Conspicuous abstention, nu-austerity, organic, Fairtrade, sustainability, down-size consumption for self-actualisation, small is beautiful, new-luxury, authentic, make do and mend, less is more, eco-bespoke and eco-relevant are all part of the new Consumer sustainability lexicon that has seen 43% of people wanting to buy organic and Fairtrade.

  • 96% of Europeans say that protecting the environment is important for them personally and for 60% it is very important.
  • 25% of Americans are now classified as “cultural creatives” who aspire to things likes environmentalism, global issues and spiritual learning.

The emergence of what we are calling Wellbeing Economics, a new direction which focuses on the Wellbeing of people and planet and that should become far more important than fiscal matters. The idea of using GDP as a thermometer for the Wellbeing of a country is both outmoded and wrong-headed. Wellbeing Economics, on the other hand, recognise that the health of the environment is paramount; it champions cooperation; and is concerned for the future of generations to come, not merely our current state of happiness or lack thereof. Environmental Wellbeing and human Wellbeing are two desirable endpoints. Economic Wellbeing is a means to achieve those ends. Some of the things which make life most valuable cannot be expressed in monetary terms. What price clean drinking water, fresh air, friendship, health, tranquillity or a beautiful view?

Certainly, we are not suggesting that our values have shifted over night and we have abandoned wealth and the ability to own what we want, but undoubtedly our value system has been challenged.

Photo by Crystal

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