Monday, August 20, 2012

Part 5 Mindfulness and Greed

Mindfulness and Greed
 "It's a perennial human problem, to delay gratification. We all struggle, from little children to the oldest and wisest, with the problem of self-control."
Angela Lee Duckworth

The American corporate capitalism—the highly competitive economic system embraced by the United States, England, Australia and Canada—encourages materialism more than other forms of capitalism and, in doing so, the incentive system encourages unethical behavior. Consequently,
  Investment banks, mortgage companies and other industries that fueled the economic downturn reward employees for specific outcomes—say, selling more mortgages or obtaining high quarterly profits—rather than other aspects of job performance. Research shows that the people who are offered these types of rewards take the shortest route to reach their goal, whether it's ethical or not, Ryan says.
"Rather than rewarding good practices, we've been rewarding outcomes, however they're attained," says Ryan. "And that's driven a lot of greedy behavior from folks who wouldn't normally act that way."

The Grip of Greed...Greed is neither good, nor good for us.

Money is only an instrumental good. It is only good for the sake of something else, namely, what we can get with it.  A deeper understanding of greed can help us to see that it is not only material goods that we desire money for, but also the security and independence that wealth can bring. Wealth is not a bad thing, in and of itself. It can help us meet our basic needs as well as enjoy luxuries which make life better. Greed is not merely caring about money and possessions, but caring too much about them. The greedy person is too attached to his things and his money.  Greed has unpleasant effects on our inner emotional lives. The anxiety and restlessness we feel when we long for some possession, and the false assurance that upon gaining it we'll be put at ease and satisfied,  places us in a literally vicious circle. By contrast, the virtue of generosity is most present not only when we share, but enjoy doing so.

Consumerism is a kind of soft addiction that overtakes the brain's reward centers. Just as people can become habituated to drugs, and require larger and larger doses in order to get high, we literally become habituated to our possessions and seek more and newer possessions in order to maintain the same level of happiness.  We chase after material goods, but because we habituate to them, getting more stuff doesn't provide lasting satisfaction. Psychologists call this the consumer treadmill. Hyperconsumerism drives manufacturing, carbon emissions, and climate change, so it does lasting damage to the environment.  So if you were to move from a cramped apartment to a lovely and spacious home, at first you would take pleasure in the size of the rooms, the beautiful floors, and the extra privacy. Over time, you'd become habituated to your living quarters and pay less attention to the things that attracted you to it. That's when you might take out a home equity loan and redo the kitchen.

Overcoming Greed Through Mindfulness
The way to overcome greed is to "be in the moment" or to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness reverses habituation. It's the practice of paying close attention to all that is around you and how you feel about it.  Mindfulness promotes stimulation and novelty by making everyday experience more intense.  As Allen Ginsberg once wrote, "You own twice as much rug if you're twice as aware of the rug."    Mindfulness can reverse habituation and help us gain lasting satisfaction from the things we have so that we don't need to accumulate more things. The less we buy, the less gets made, and the less pollution there is to damage the planet.

So, there are some things that we can do to combat greed in our lives. First, a bit of self-assessment can be helpful.  Track your spending over a one or two month period, and categorize your expenditures. This could shed some light on our priorities, and on ways you could cut superfluous spending. Second,  take a holiday from consumerism.  During this break, try to avoid advertising, trips to the mall, looking through catalogues, watching home improvement shows, and the like. This is both counter-cultural and freeing.  Finally,  pledge money or volunteer your time to an agency or a charitable organizaton.  This will help meet real needs that others have.

For what good would their prosperity do them if it did not provide them with the opportunity for good works?

The Consumer Treadmill

License:  Standard YouTube License


Edward Bernays and the Art of Public Manipulation

License:  Standard YouTube License 


Suggested Reading:

Mindful Brain 

The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being

Leading neurobiologist Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., presents a new framework for maintaining mental health and well-being. Three human experiences have been documented as promoting well-being: secure attachment, mindfulness meditation, and effective psychotherapy.  Siegel's unifying theory shows that the effects of these three experiences have a similar neural mechanism. Siegel uses theory, science, and anecdote to reveal how to transform the brain as well as promote well-being.


The Sense of Wonder

Front Cover
An inspiring meditation by one of the best nature writers of the twentieth century, richly illustrated by lush, color photography

Rachel Carson shares her prescription for developing a lifelong respect for nature in this deeply personal essay, lavishly expanded and paced by Nick Kelsh’s vibrant photography in this posthumously published edition. Using her personal adventures with her young nephew Roger as examples, Carson urges parents to let their children’s natural excitement thrive as together they discover the wonders that lie outdoors, from the scuttling of a crab across the cool night sand to a spongy carpet of lichen in a forest. Originally published as a magazine piece, this essay showcases Carson’s core belief that a childlike excitement for beauty, for the new and unknown, and for the process of discovery is a gift to be nurtured—a gift that will sustain humanity and the health of the planet on which it depends.
There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. — Nigel Marsh

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