Ross Gittins has a typically excellent review of Clive Hamilton’s book Growth Fetish in today’s SMH. I blogged on aspects of the book dealing with happiness studies some time ago, as did other bloggers including John Quiggin here and here.
Gittins discusses a range of other issues raised by Hamilton, but finishes with this observation about happiness:
Unending growth in the consumption of goods and services doesn’t create happiness.
Rather, unhappiness sustains economic growth. The marketers and advertisers have to play on, and play up, our discontents, holding out the promise that another tub of margarine – or a Rolex watch – will bring us to nirvana.
The producers have to con us into keeping up our consumption so that production can keep growing. This makes sense?
Gittins’ question gives me the chance to make a point about happiness that I intended to mention previously. The Buddha discovered this fundamental truth about happiness thousands of years ago, and not only about material possessions. All worldly striving and attachments, Buddha taught, are ultimately unsatisfactory. Happiness is transitory by nature.
But endemic human unhappiness and striving are the engines of growth and development, including in an intellectual and cultural sense. They have led us to decreasing levels of hunger, disease and malnutrition, as well as great discoveries in science and the arts. Nirvana is not only perfect peace, but the nothingness that occurs when all desire is conquered. Maybe the Buddha’s vision of nirvana, or Clive Hamilton’s, might be worth having when disease and hunger are completely eliminated. In the meantime, the answer to Ross Gittins’ “This makes sense?” question is “My oath it does!”