Yesterday I had a little solo jam session and sang like no one was listening. I got lost in it. Accompanying myself on guitar I belted out tune after tune like I never have before. The music flowed, bliss followed. It was liberating.
My experience made me think of a popular quote that recommends we do things as if no one was around, relieved of all potential negative social pressures. It made me wonder how people would do things differently if unafraid of being bludgeoned by the hammer of groupthink.
What if we did everything like no one was watching? Would we dress differently? Would we go to work less? Be creative more? Would we travel as much? Would we consume less?
A recent study shows how seeing the "visible assets" (stuff) of others can affect our own consumption habits. Unsurprisingly, conspicuous consumption can be contagious. Once infected, one feels great social pressure to consume, even if a huge debt load and bankruptcy is the result.
The research showed that people feel compelled to increase their own spending when they see physical evidence of exorbitant spending by neighbours with newly acquired wealth. Rather than looking on their neighbours situation as a precautionary tale, we try to "keep up". For a variety of reasons, that is harder to do these days.
Never mind the Jones', most people today are finding it challenge enough to keep up with the Simpsons. But liberation and bliss are only one decision away, and that decision is to consume like no one is watching.
What Jones'? They aren't real, but subtle and not-so-subtle consumer arm twisting definitely is, from grade school to the adults in your very neighbourhood.
Be forewarned - the pressure is massive and opting out of the material competition has always been difficult. In 1899 Thorstein Veblen, American economist and sociologist, stated in The Theory of The Leisure Class that “the failure to consume in due quantity and quality becomes a mark of inferiority and demerit. This applies particularly to food, drinks, narcotics, shelter and feasting”.