Student - September 21, 2018

‘More stuff doesn’t make us happy’

Tessa Louwerens

Sam van Es researches plant growth. But he also like to philosophize about the endless economic growth in the western world and the constant wish for more. It must be possible to change that, he thinks. Buying a book instead of the latest smartphone strikes him as a good start.

Sam van Es got his PhD in Molecular Biology on 18 September. He studied how TCP proteins regulate the growth and development of plants.

Proposition: Buying books is the closest a person can get to buying happiness.

‘Our society revolves around the incorrect assumption that more stuff makes us happier. That pursuit of happiness is what life is all about. Now of course books are things too, so in that sense my proposition might seem contradictory. But what I think is that when you buy a book, you are not just buying a thing but also the knowledge, the ideas, the dreams and the fantasies it contains. So if you have to buy something, books bring you closer to happiness than the latest smartphone. I am not arguing for a super-minimalist lifestyle, but I don’t believe that new things are better by definition. My motorbike, for example, is 25 years old, but I wouldn’t get any more pleasure out of a new one. So I am materialistic too.

That constant wish for more is fed by marketing. The economy is sacred, and for it to shrink would be disastrous. So to realize that constant growth, more and more stuff must be produced and bought. Advertising shows us images of happy people with their new car. Coca-Cola is even advertised as “happiness in a bottle.” Whether consciously or not, you go along with that.

I am more in favour of a different economic model, such as the doughnut economy. In that model you have to stay inside the ring of an imaginary doughnut in order to make sure there is enough to provide for people’s basic needs. But for sustainable production, you don’t go beyond the outer ring either. So it is based on limits instead of the endless economic growth that we currently aim at.’