Is aspiration bringing us down?

There was an interesting report published last week by Pew Research. It’s about America, but I wonder if it might apply around the world. The gist of the findings were that fewer middle-class Americans feel their life is ‘moving forward’ than in the past 50 years. And one of the causes of this is that they cannot afford the lifestyle they would like to lead. Does that sound familiar?

Are we all striving to live an unrealistic life? Some would say the credit crunch is partly due to Americans buying houses they would always struggle to pay for. And if we are all aspiring to live a little better, is that a worthy aspiration, or are materialistic societies causing us to value the wrong things?

Is ambition for bigger homes, flashier cars, swankier holidays creating pressure and expectation that more often than not lead to an unhappier rather than a happier life?

12 Responses to “Is aspiration bringing us down?”

  1. April 15, 2008 at 14:17

    As I noted on the ‘Talking Points’ blog:

    I feel better than I did four years ago. Four years ago I was in college with no sort of direction in my life, working on my first Bachelors in International Business Management.

    I now own my own home, have a great career, I’m on my second Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering, I’m doing alot better and as such I feel alot better.

    To expand on that, I am more than happy with the lifestyle I lead. It seems that time is my constraint, not money. Theres just so much that I wish to do and do not have the time to do it. I want to finish my landscaping, finish getting my garden ready, enjoy the river with my dogs, finish getting my EV back on the road, tile my bathtub surround haha, and these items are just the begining of the list! None of this has anything to do with money, its all about time for me.

    Bigger homes are more expensive in every aspect, initial cost, and cost to maintain, heat, cool, etc. Why do I want a bigger house if I don’t need one? I have my dogs and if I can’t take them on vacations, that idea is out the window haha. My little Solectria Force EV and VW are all the headturners I need 🙂 No need for excess.

    Materialistic societies are certainly a factor. Although the less you care about what people think about you it seems, the happier you are with your lifestyle.

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  2. 2 steve
    April 15, 2008 at 14:28

    50 Years ago, you could raise a family of four on one income. Now you can barely “get by”on two, why? Because people are so materialistic and spend money they don’t have, that it drives prices up for everything, the most obvious being real estate. materialistic people are miserable people, and miserable to be around. They are never happy. So long as people think “if I had x, then i’d be happy” these people will be a constant mess, and will bring down those near them. I invite everyone here to visit the Washington, DC area and see this for yourself. It’s full of the most miserable people on earth, obsessed with material things and status. Of course these people will say they are not better better off because they always want more, and are not happy with what they have. I go to bed at night thankful I live in a country where I have indoor plumbing, potable water, and we don’t have coups ever 4 years. For many people, that’s not good enough. You read about food riots in Haiti, and I saw 5 people in the span of 30 seconds this morning getting off the Metro of incredibly obese people..

  3. 3 Xie_Ming
    April 15, 2008 at 15:12

    Ros’ question is so fundamental that it is overwhelming.

    Of course a materialist value system must disappoint!

    Safety, food and health are fundamentals.

    One then has aspirations for his children.

    Beyond that, it is arguably better to have equality than to have a higher standard of living.

    Such truths have revolutionary implications and advertisiers would not like them.

  4. April 15, 2008 at 15:38

    I am currently very happy with my life as today I got on my postgraduate diploma for broadcast journalism :D:D:D

    Hopefully I also have time to do some travelling and get some life experiences 😀

    The report said that my age group, and the fact that i had a degree means that i should be less happy. I am not less happy but i do recognise that the value of a degree is decreasing which is a shame considering all the work that goes into on.

    Plus it is sunny in the UK and that makes me happy to 😀

  5. 5 Katharina in Ghent
    April 15, 2008 at 15:48

    Generally speaking, aspiration is a good thing, not bad. If humans never had any aspirations, then we would still live in caves and living off fruits and caterpillars, because without aspiration you ask how you might kill that big bison over there to feed your tribe and how to grow plants for the next season.

    Both my husband and I are scientists, and without aspirations we would never try to find the missing link in any biological question. Along that line, I definitely feel better now than I did 4 years ago, and I do expect that to increase over time. Our aspirations are not just about material things (economically we’re just slowly getting out of the hole, what with student loans and the like…), but much more in learning new techniques and getting new results.

    Even if you just aspire for material things, at least it gives you something to look out for. The problem of course is that you may turn into a “technology junkie” who buys every 6 months a new cell phone or something else because the old one is not good enough any more. The healthy attitude would naturally be to save the money and buy it when you have it (I remember those days…), but nowadays, most people want it right now… and that’s where it gets unhealthy.

  6. April 15, 2008 at 16:06

    What happened in the US regarding the credit crisis and mortgage crisis is because not of aspiration or ambition, it is simply greed and dishonesty.

  7. 7 John in Salem
    April 15, 2008 at 16:50

    I don’t believe it’s our aspirations that are bringing us down so much as our fear of seeing ourselves (and being seen) as failures.
    Our image of success is defined by what we see. A generation ago that would have been “Ozzie and Harriet” or “Life of Riley” or Dick van Dyke, people who seemed to actually share our potentials.
    Nowadays we idolize the rich and famous, and the “reality” we see are people who hit the jackpot answering stupid questions or winning the lottery or selling inane books while the rest of us struggle to put gas in our cars. Our children are pounded with the message that they deserve what all those people have and so we support an industry that takes the maximum advantage of those fantasies (and our guilt) by lending us money that we can’t afford to borrow.
    You want to be happier? Turn off the tv and go to the library.

  8. April 15, 2008 at 17:50

    First off, I am a little shocked that we are being told that to aspire to a ‘better life’ than the one you currently have or had is a bad thing. In addition to which, self advertising is great but I rather believe that true happiness – whatever that is, is not about flauting “how happy I am” messages for all to hear.

    Rather, I feel it is a comparably more quiet contentment about certain facts of life, whether that means you own a flashy car, big house or six university degrees, parts thereof, or none of the above. I, for one a keen cheerleader, of the ‘better life’ project – whatever that means.

    As far as I am concerned, something is wrong with any study that penalises ambition in the interests of economic and political expedience. And, that does not mean I am supporting excessive consumption. However, governments are set up to figure out the problems nations face not to tell them that what they desire is bad! What is happening, here? (and I am not saying this report was, necessarilly, government sponsored, just a cautionary note!)

  9. 9 Virginia Davis
    April 15, 2008 at 18:49

    I have never aspired to have a car. Always public transportation. Makes a big difference. Changes choices. Gives a different “time” set. Virginia in Oregon

  10. 10 Thomas Murray
    April 15, 2008 at 21:01

    I would add that it is the downside of a capitalistic system.

    I’m not sure how it is in Europe, but here every conceivable sinew and mote of human energy drives the high-pressure sales pitch — the closest thing we have to institutional predation short of war.

    26 years ago I was a salesman in a high-end housewares department store — so high-end we all wore suits and ties — in the back room the histrionics were like scenes out of “Glengarry Glen Ross; where closing the deal was referred to not as “making the kill.”

    It’s not just the buyer who got us into the credit crunch — that’s only half the problem. We also have to blame the salesman, and a culture of predatory capitalism that allows him to exist.

    On the the up side, I heard on NPR that the mortgage market comprises only 2 percent of the total U.S. banking economy, and failed mortgages are only a fraction of that, so the market is fluctuating on frayed nerves alone. We just need a Franklin Delano Roosevelt to tell us that our fears are unfounded.

    The market should start to look up once spring sets in for good, we can throw open our windows, and stop paying such exorbitant gas and heating oil bills.

    And, Brett. I have two Bachelor’s degrees. The one in communications is barely margin, the one in physics most valuable. But public teachers are only hired even here in Louisville if they have a Masters in Education. So get your MBA if you can. No, get it in the subject you like most. Just get it.

    –It was 33 degrees Fahrenheit last night! That’s almost Zero Celsius gang!

    –Regards. Louisville, Kentucky, US.

  11. 11 Tatyana
    April 16, 2008 at 11:38

    We are so many, our wishes differ,
    The thing is What you want and How to achieve.
    You can get much and be a famous person
    The fact is whether right or wrong you live.
    If you are greedy and want more than needed,
    You have too much, but you want something else,
    Who’s sure,you won’t be brought down?
    They’ll say , the thing is clear: wealth.

    And if you want to do much for your children,
    For parents, who are old enough,
    You’ll do it, it’s another question,
    Because you do it in the name of Love!

  12. April 16, 2008 at 15:54

    How absolutely refreshing that all of the comments so far today have contributed something admirable on this topic. Brett mentioned that Time is the new constraint even moreso than money, and I wholly concur. Please check out this website on Time and contribute to the discussion: http://www.perceptionoftime.com

    Eileen in Virginia

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