18 March 2013

False Abundance

Source: Digital Art Gallery

"A shopping mall full of zen monks is not going to be particularly profitable because they don't want stuff enough" 
- Dan Gilbert

One could say we live in a society of abundance - at least in the "Western" world. We have more than enough to eat, and the society of consumption brings us a vast panoply of items in any category, with new products available on the market daily. But I came across the very interesting notion, from Serge Latouche, that this is not a society of abundance at all. Why?

Well, it is simple: because we never stop wanting more.

In his book "Vers une société d'abondance frugale" (Towards a Society of Frugal Abundance), Serge Latouche introduces the idea that in this consumerist society, we actually live in a false abundance. What does that mean?


Well, objectively, still speaking of the "Western" world, we do live in abundance. We have more than enough to eat - so much that some people actually die of obesity - and most households are overflowing with stuff. Plus, we upgrade our stuff quite regularly, and most of the stuff we buy ends up in a closet/room/garage/cellar after a while.

So we can't really say that we are lacking of anything, both in terms of basic needs (food, shelter) and interests/hobbies (from the hobby stuff to completely useless gadgets). I think it is even safe to say that we have more than we need. Abundance, then. But why is it "false"?

We don't feel like we have more than enough

In fact, we don't even feel that we have enough at all. This is why it is a "false" abundance. In a real society of abundance, we would have enough, and we would be content with that. We'd realize that all our needs are met, and most of our futile endeavours are as well. We'd feel that abundance, we'd be satisfied with what we have and we'd feel content.

But we mostly aren't satisfied with what we have, are we? We move from wishlist to wishlist, discarding the latest desired item more or less soon after purchase.

When I remember pas wishlists of mine, I felt strongly about owning these clothes at the time. Now, I realize that the items I have actually bought are now just like all the others, sitting comfortably in my closet, while I'm thinking of my next wishlist.

The "false" part of our society's abundance resides here: we don't lack of anything, but we still feel like we do, constantly.

False Abundance

Why don't we feel like we have enough? Well, I think the quote above explains it well. We live in a society where the economy is based on growth, on a never ending consumption of  new products. In order to keep making profit, companies need us to buy new stuff all the time. And in order for consumers to buy new stuff, they need to want it, don't they?

So companies wouldn't want us to feel like we live in abundance, would they? That's where Serge Latouche's book gets interesting. He explains that the abundance is "false" because our society induces us to feel like we still need more stuff. With advertisements, TV shows displaying characters owning the latest gadget, magazines, blogs, any media really. We are bathed in an environment that compells us to want something new, and works against us being content with what we already have.

In his book, Serge Latouche presents an alternative society, of "frugal abundance". I won't go that deep in the debate today, but I thought this was a good food for thought. Because we are, in fact, living in a society of abundance. And the only thing that keeps us from being content is that we don't feel that abundance.

Meaning that, if we get aware of that, and consciously fight against this idea that we need more stuff to feel content, then maybe, on a personal level at least, we can start feeling the abundance and be content with our lives. What do you think?


Serge Latouche - "Vers une Société d'Abondance Frugale" (sadly not translated in English to my knowledge)
Dan Gilbert's TED talks

Going further
Less Stuff, More Happiness - Graham Hill


  1. his choice of words "false abundance" is a little confusing for me but i get the point haha. i know if i don't go shopping or look at nice pictures in magazines and the internet i tend to stop thinking about buying things. i've also shopped enough to know that more things don't make me happier, or make me stop wanting. all this has helped me buy less and fight temptation better.

    it also goes back to making sure you buy things that are absolutely right. i find that because i love what i have, it's easier to ignore whatever people wave in front of you, and i continue to feel appreciative whenever i put on something of mine.

    1. Aha that may be my translation that's bad. I'm thinking I should have said "fake" instead of "false" maybe? But I see what you mean about seeing images and browsing websites that make you want more.

      I remember starting this as a young teenager, we had this catalogue from the pre-online times called "la redoute" that sold all kinds of clothes, furniture and housewares that you ordered via mail and received home. I remember looking at the pictures and wanting to buy whatever the model was wearing if I liked her style...

      Anyway I think that's challenging as you say, buying new stuff doesn't make us stop wanting more, and when we are so compelled to buy more all day long it's hard to fight it. But I agree with you, finding just the right thing may help a lot being content with what you have and grateful to have found it...

  2. Great post--I feel the same way, but express it differently. It seems that in the US everyone has a false sense of scarcity. Eight years ago I moved from a fairly affluent New England suburb to a large urban area in one of the poorest States in the US (New Mexico). My daughter has classmates who literally depend upon the kindness of policy makers for food. It's been an eye-opener.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! Sometimes I wonder what events can lead people to actually realize these things and question their life. It is true that is can also be linked to a false sense of scarcity - this feeling that we never have quite enough...