“We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” – Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers

In the 1920’s, through the help of PR campaigns and advertising, America shifted in a new direction called consumptionism. Ads started to promote products less on the basis of what people need, and aimed more toward what people desired. Ads began to use emotions and desires to evoke an attachment to products rather than their functionality for everyday life.

Since then, America has continued on its path of a lifestyle and economy built around consuming. Even the structure of the global economy has been shaped by this consumption. China’s economy has been built on the exports and demand for low-cost products in the western world. The United States’ economy, once a producer and exporter, is now largely made up of the retail, sales, and services sector. Instead of General Stores we have strip malls, department stores, and shopping malls.

In 2008 we started to see a crack in that foundation. Homeowners defaulted and lost their homes, businesses started to shut their doors, and the retirements and savings of many were erased in the blink of an eye.

What happens when the American lifestyle is shaken in this way? The lifestyle we once valued and clung to is slowly eroding and changing.

I believe that this is the time to re-examine our values, and to think about what matters most in life. If all of our possessions were lost, what would remain most important to us? Maybe we would see the value of family and friendship in a new way. Or perhaps the value of community and trust- all of the things that money can’t buy which are valuable but we’ve often taken for granted in our culture of consumptionism.

People are starting to think different about their lifestyles since 2008. There are popular workshops and groups that discuss self-sufficiency and homesteading. There is a Maker movement of young people that choose to use their free time tinkering, building, and making things (check out Instructables.com). Adventurists are rediscovering the outdoors, national parks, and trails. Tiny Homes are gaining popularity. Others are finding new ways to live a minimalist and simple life by focusing on what truly matters most to them.

I’m certainly not celebrating the 2008 crisis and our economic recession/depression. It has been devastating to so many people, and even today there are hard workers that lost their jobs and can’t find employment. However, in the bigger picture there can be a positive direction and focus that we all are capable of pursuing even in hard times. When you take away the cultural idol of consumptionism that we so desperately identified with for almost a century in the United States, you must replace it with something. We can shift our focus from consumption lifestyle to a lifestyle that explores meaningful values such as community, creativity, and resilience. In this sense, these times are an opportunity to focus on new things, and this should give us hope for society and the differences we can make.