Austerity has now been dancing on the tip of everyone’s tongue for the best part of this year. The supposed cause of widespread misery, depression and most recently suicide – it seems we’re holding austerity responsible for all our woes.
But is austerity the real root of the problem, or is it simply a side effect of our fixation on material wealth? Would austerity be a problem if money wasn’t made to seem like the essential ingredient for our ultimate happiness?
What exactly is austerity?
Austerity is when a government deliberately introduces harsh economic measures (i.e. cuts to public services, benefits and education) to achieve a financial goal, which in this case is to reduce a deficit that none of the people most affected by the cuts are responsible for.
Does this sound like a bold statement? Take a look at how our deficit is a result of the government’s overspending and borrowing, and then take a look at how the people paying the price are anyone but those in government.
But we’ve heard this all before. Everyone hates the Tories, although they somehow won a majority during the election. We get it. But amidst all this talk about austerity, we have forgotten about the reason why it’s having such a devastating effect on people. We’ve been tricked into thinking money is the means to happiness and freedom.
Money has come to define us as a society – in many ways becoming our religion – the one thing we all collectively believe in. After all, that’s the only thing allowing it to exist. It’s an idea we all agree on. If we didn’t, money would be nothing but meaningless numbers and bits of paper. As a result, financial wealth has been made a measure of our success, happiness and fulfilment.
But do we not all know intuitively that money can’t buy any of these things? Is this not common knowledge by now? Either way, we remain captivated by its allure.
A society hooked on stuff
We are the society hooked on spending money and material possessions. We’ve come to believe that our identities rely on the clothes we wear, the vehicles we drive and the phones we carry.
Take the Rich Kids of Instagram, the opulence of which is smugly on display for the envy of others. What are you if you’re not sat in first class plane surrounded by croissants and wine whilst receiving a massage? Nothing, that’s what.
But superficial wealth is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem goes deeper than disposable luxuries – the charm of which many have already freed themselves from.
Money and freedom
Money has not only been portrayed as the means to happiness, it has been portrayed as the means to our freedom. Without money, we are trapped. Or so we’ve been lead to believe.
But what does freedom mean at this point? It seems increasingly like an empty word used by politicians to seduce us into accepting their dubious actions. As long as money is allowed to dictate the quality of our lives, we cannot claim to be even within a million miles of freedom.
Think about it, what does freedom mean to you? Do any of your answers involve money in some way?
It’s time to turn away from the idea that money paves the way to freedom and happiness and return to the true definition of happiness.
Happiness is a state of mind
You’ve probably heard this one and rolled your eyes before. But if you have ever found yourself feeling stressed out by your financial situation, trapped by circumstance or inadequate because you are not in possession of something – you may need to dwell on this statement a little more.
The Buddha said “Peace comes from within, do not seek it without.” The same is true for happiness. Almost all spiritual wisdom from our ancestors points towards happiness being something that comes from within, not something to be found externally. Regardless of your religious beliefs, it is difficult to deny this.
Happiness in most people’s mind is getting the things they desire. But the problem with that is those things inevitably fade away, just as anything in the material world does. When that happens, you will suffer and will inevitably desire something else to replace it, and on goes the cycle. Lasting happiness can exist irrespective of external circumstances.
If we continue to be mislead by the version of happiness sold to us, tricked into believing money is the catalyst, we will always be at the mercy of our government’s actions – our well-being reliant on the financial allowances made for us.
Once we realise that happiness is something that can be found right now – wherever we stand, regardless of our possessions or our bank balance – we are free.
It’s time to redefine the role money plays in our lives. At the very most, it should be the means to buy the things you need and enjoy time with your loved ones. But the idea that it can buy happiness and freedom is dangerous and perpetuates inequality and suffering all over the world.
It’s not about completely removing it, although some people believe there are alternatives to the monetary system. But loosening its grip on our lives can go a long way in liberating us.
This might all sound incredibly idealistic, maybe even unrealistic. But with the light at the end of humanity’s tunnel getting dimmer and dimmer, it is our ideals that will light the way. Let’s not hang around.