The Gratilog: promoting awareness, appreciation

Restlessness and discontentment sell. During the Industrial Revolution, when assembly lines first began cranking out product at an unprecedented rate and in unprecedented quantities, there was a realization that many people were going to have to learn to be consumers – and learn fast. It did not take advertisers long to understand that as long as people were not content with what they already owned, they would be that much more likely to consume more. Advertisements and commercials have promoted restlessness and discontentment ever since. Buy more, we are told, and at least for a few moments we can “be more”.
We learned our lessons well. For example, economist Juliet Schor estimates that, on average, we buy a new item of clothing every five days. But you do not need me to tell you about your consumption habits. When was the last time you bought new stuff? My guess is that, like almost all of us, you are a regular consumer.
You may be thinking, “what if consuming lots of stuff is what makes me happy?” The answer is that it probably doesn’t – at least not in any lasting way.
As materialism scholar Tim Kasser offers in his book The High Price of Materialism, “Existing scientific research on the value of materialism yields clear and consistent findings. People who are highly focused on materialistic values have lower personal well-being and psychological health than those who believe that materialistic pursuits are relatively unimportant.” Not only is our society’s endless demand that we consume stuff bad for you, it’s bad for the planet. As Kasser points out,
“The ultimate problem implied by these [materialism] studies is that if we continue to be driven by selfishness and materialism, ecological disaster awaits us.”
Right; it’s not just that consuming lots of stuff makes us unhappy, but it’s also that the earth can’t sustain our habits. This is where I would like to introduce a radical concept: gratitude. Instead of endless coveting, gratitude allows us to pause and reflect on that which we already have. That which makes us happy. That which makes us fulfilled. That of which we have enough. You might be grateful for the love of friends and family, for the comfort of a place to sleep, for healthy local food, for the educational journey on which you are about to embark.
If you go to you will find a recently created project by some graduate students I was working with. The idea behind the project is to celebrate “enough”. The Gratilog Project encourages us to think about what we’re grateful for in our lives and to share our gratitude with others. Because we’re so busy being told to be dissatisfied with the thing and people in our lives, it’s refreshing to be asked to be appreciative and filled with gratitude, even if it is only temporary.
Whether you share your reflections as part of the gratilog project or just roll them around in your head for a bit, why not take the experience one step further? Spend some time paying attention to the ways in which you are told to be ungrateful and discontented: to find other people’s friends and loved ones cool and beautiful; to covet fast, fried and over-processed food; to believe that your clothes are outdated; to think of school as boring and a waste of time.
Restlessness and discontentment sell. Maybe on a different planet, one with endless resources and the capacity to deal with endless waste, your willingness to be a restless discontented consumer would be your business alone. But on this climate changing finite planet I feel compelled to encourage you to practice the dying arts of contentment and gratitude.
Jennifer Good is an Associate Professor in Communication, Popular Culture and Film.

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