The world changing magic of the experience revolution
The western world today has 3 major problems:
- the environment — caused by the incredible success of materialistic, consumerist capitalism
- the “happiness deficit” — the stress, anxiety and depression that go hand-in-hand with materialism
- inequality — the trickle-down effect, the idea that “rising tides raise all boats” isn’t true. Our materialistic, consumerist capitalist system has winners and losers. And that isn’t fair.
How to solve these problems?
I don’t believe in most solutions. They often seem to solve one of the problems while ignoring the others — or even making them worse.
- Business As Usual
Oh dear. Not good for any of the three problems.
- Buy Nothing Day
… and other ideas about some sort of huge reduction in consumerism. This would be great for the environment, and could also be good for happiness, but this would kill GDP and growth. And those things have been very useful for our current standards of living. A healthy GDP is good for healthcare: spare money to spend on life-saving and life-enhancing drugs and equipment! A healthy GDP is also good for This would throw the proverbial baby out with bathwater.
The idea that technology will solve everything. This is put forward by people like Peter Diamandis, especially as outlined in his book Abundance. But while, again, this will solve the problems of the environment, it doesn’t have anything to say about the happiness deficit or inequality.
- The Circular Economy
The idea of less waste, of using our resources more carefully, and creating a system that, rather than simply haul more out of the ground, keeps raw materials going round that system — is great for the environment. But it has nothing to say about happiness or inequality.
- Better capitalism
There are many versions: Conscious Capitalism, led by Whole Foods’ John Mackey. Co-op capitalism, coined by economist Noreen Hertz. Lots of people are interested, as this Harvard Business Review article suggests, in Reimagining capitalism. Each of these is well meaning, but I believe that they are like medicines that deal with symptoms rather than root causes.
As you can see, none of these tackles all three problems. But the Experience Revolution does.
The 3 reasons why the Experience Revolution will make the world a better place
- Better for the environment
If people shift from materialism to experientialism, that is, if more people opt to look for happiness, identity, meaning, status in less material things, and more in experiences, it will bring two benefits. First, by the very fact that they choose not to express themselves through material goods, they will want and buy less stuff. (Need a reminder on how negative material goods are for the environment? Watch The Story of Stuff, and read this (which is from the script): “the waste coming out of our houses is just the tip of the iceberg. For every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream just to make the junk in that one garbage can you put out on the curb.”
- Better for wellbeing
Experiences have been proven time and again by social scientists to be more likely to lead to happiness than material goods. There are 7 principle reasons, which I outlined in an article for Fast Company, The 7 Reasons That Science Says You Should Pay For Experience, Not Things.
- Good for inequality
If you read Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level (and if you care about inequality, you should), you’ll not only notice that it’s clear that inequality is bad for society, but also that the key reason why inequality is bad for people is the problem of status. This is also the principle theme of Status Syndrome: How Your Place on the Social Gradient Directly Affects Your Health by public health expert, professor Michael Marmot. This is a natural consequence of a post-feudal, fluid modern society, as observed in two seminal works about modern society. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in a fluid society where anyone can rise to the top, the equal and opposite side of that equation is that anyone can fall to the bottom. This is the key reason for the stress millions of us feel today, as Alain de Botton noted in Status Anxiety. The media-driven culture of today exacerbates and exaggerates any concerns we may have. The ritual celebration and concentration on fame, money, and success surrounds us — from the Kardashians (why else would they call the TV show “Keeping up with the Kardashians”) to business publications like Fast Company and Forbes and Entrepreneur. Surrounded with messages shouting about the success of others, along with the message that “you can be anything you want to be” means that if you are not, this must be your choice, or a fault on your part.
And this is where experientialism is so useful. Experiments have shown that people do compare experiences, just as they compare goods. Some experiences have more status than others. Compare a five-star trip to Bhutan vs a weekend local camping. And yet, it’s harder to compare experiences. The comparison is far fuzzier than it is with material goods.
One result of that is that if you see the world through the eyes of an experientialist, you are less likely to be affected by the snakes and ladders of status comparison compared to a materialistic person.
So, experientialism is better for the environment, better for wellbeing and better for inequality. I don’t think it’s a one-shot, silver-bullet wonder. I don’t think it will solve every problem. But it’s a very good start to ease the problems that come with consumer-based capitalism. (While keeping the magic: money flowing through the economy, creating wealth, reducing poverty, improving lives.)
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