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Material insecurity and Obama

Obama said that people today feel threatened by material insecurity. It was hard for me to understand why.

I know that the middle class is disappearing and that the income inequality is worse than it has ever been. I know that record numbers of people have jobs, and that job insecurity is a constant fear of people. I have seen this firsthand and experienced this myself.

It is unfortunate that too many businesses profit margins are so thin, and that it means that the workforce suffers because of it. Yet I have to take a step back and wonder if feeling material insecurity is a consequence of our past choices as a society.

As a society we have thought that bigger and better is the way to go. We built bigger roads when we had more cars, and then more cars used those bigger roads. We think that spending money at a problem will fix it. To be materially secure I guess means that we want more money and/or the promise of stable employment.

I don’t see that happening. Already countries like the US make huge salaries and the change of consumer preferences is accelerating. I watched a neat graph that showed in the last 20 years the market capitalization or the biggest companies in the world. It used to be that Coke was the biggest company and now it is Apple.

Why does this matter? It is hard to believe that our standard of living that has risen dramatically even in my lifetime has made us happier. I think it has increased our unhappiness. In the past few people could afford a laptop, or even multiple computers. Now it is commonplace. I think that as things have become cheaper people have felt they needed more to be happy.

When you always need more things to be happy how can you ever be happy? I realized that the treadmill of consumerism can never bring material security or happiness. What has brought me more happiness is to save money, live below my means and not try to grab everything that others do.

I am not telling you how you should live your life, but to consider that if you are unhappy perhaps you can learn from past decisions. I know my security isn’t changed by any material possessions. I could lose everything in a fire, theft so I don’t trust anything I have.

Life is about having courage and accepting that security isn’t in things, jobs or people. It is being flexible and resilient in the face of whatever happens in life. No matter what happens in my future, I am ready for it.

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