In his 2008 book, The Freedom Paradox, Clive Hamilton argues that within free-market capitalism, corporate interests actively discourage us from acting in accord with the values, preferences and desires we would endorse after careful consideration. Very few of us, he writes, would, upon deep reflection, say that it is our innermost desire in life to work incredibly hard at a job we dislike in order to possess the latest consumer products. Yet this is precisely the life our society encourages. From early childhood onward, advertisers expertly instill within us a set of values, preferences and desires that are not our own, but those that corporations wish us to have. As a result, our true ideals become increasingly neglected and stigmatized. This denial of our moral selves, Hamilton believes, can largely explaining the discontent increasingly prevalent in affluent societies.
Empirical support for these ideas can be found in the world of Martin Seligman, the world renowned psychologist and expert in the study of happiness. After years of research, Seligman has proposed that a major component of happiness is having meaning in our lives, which is achieved by being devoted to something larger than ourselves. This compliments Hamilton’s arguments well. The things we devote ourselves to and derive meaning from will doubtlessly be linked with our inner values. And if devoting ourselves to things we deeply value is an important part of happiness, it seems only obvious that failing to do so–and living in societies that actively discourage us from doing so — would lead to unhappiness.
-Paul Connor, excerpted from Adbusters #91, Volume 18, #5