Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don't Have in Search of Happiness We Can't Buy
2011 nonfiction book by James A. Roberts
Americans toss out 140 million cell phones every year. We discard 2 million plastic bottles every five minutes. And our total credit-card debt as of July 2011 is $793 billion. Plus, credit cards can make you fat. The American Dream was founded on … see full wiki
"Most life goals can be placed in one of two opposing camps: personal happiness or service to others. In other words, goals are typically self-oriented or other-oriented. The problem is that pursuing one type of goal comes at the expense of goals in the other camp." - page 295
Author James A. Roberts is a professor of marketing at Baylor University and a nationally recognized expert on consumer behavior. He has done extensive research on compulsive buying and credit card abuse and despite what he does for a living (he knows all the tricks of the trade) he is extremely concerned about how rampant materialism has negatively impacted the quality of life in America. He contends that we have paid an enormous price for the choices we have made. In his new book "Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don't Have in Search of Happiness We Can't Buy" Roberts offers a comprehensive history of how we got here and how we as a society and as individuals might extricate ourselves from such patently destructive behavior. For those among who are mired in an endless cycle of debt this book should prove to be a real eye-opener.
Although Roberts believes that the roots of our highly materialistic society can be traced back to the nineteenth century I have chosen to focus on the events of the past half century. In the 1960's the German philosopher Herbert Marcuse observed "an American middle-class that was not exploited by their employers, but had become `happy slaves' who believed that the system would provide for their needs." Marcuse warned that Americans were looking for gratification only in the consumer culture. And if you want to discover the origins of the consumer attitudes that led to the so-called "housing bubble" in 2008 you need only look back to the 1960's when industry proponents of loose credit argued that "the lack of access to credit was a form of discrimination, which excluded millions of Americans from the products which `they need and to which they have a right.'" How did we ever allow ourselves to buy into such hogwash?
In "Shiny Objects" James Roberts reveals that as of 2008 the typical American consumer had a total of 13 credit obligations including 9 credit cards and 4 installment loans. Furthermore, the average credit card debt per family in 2008 was $10679. I always wondered how people managed to drive new cars, take expensive vacations and put additions on their homes. Now I know! Roberts also discusses how many of these questionable values have even managed to infiltrate religion. I was appalled by what I learned about an increasing popular theology called the "prosperity gospel". The bottom line is that there are so many forces at work in our culture promulgating shopping and consumerism that it has become virtually impossible for many people to resist. Yet Roberts cites study after study that confirms that at the end of the day less materialistic people are generally much happier. They spend more quality time with the family, are able to form and maintain close friendships, and are generally much more involved in the community.
Time will not permit me to point out all of the important issues covered in "Shiny Objects". I thought James Roberts did an outstanding job of explaining how so many Americans are lured into this trap. We need to educate ourselves about how vulnerable most of us are to the powerful forces at work in our economy that endlessly cajole us to "spend, spend, spend". Furthermore, there are a series of useful exercises in the book that will assist you in discovering what your attitudes are about such topics as general happiness, conspicuous consumption, compulsive buying and self-control. You just might learn a lot about yourself here. In the final chapter of the book James Roberts implores us to "Step Away From the Shopping Cart" and offers a list of practical suggestions that he dubs "25 Tweaks to Financial Security". These are extremely useful ideas that just about everyone can benefit from. Overall, I thought that "Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don't Have in Search of Happiness We Can't Buy" was a reasonably well-written book that will help you either deal with or get up to speed on these extremely important issues. Highly recommended.
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