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Que Sera Sera: The Diderot Effect Of Discontentment

Happiness is inside-out! when people don’t understand this, it leads to huge mental/emotional illness, lack of self-esteem and discontentment. Let us understand and learn this from The Diderot-Effect.

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The Diderot-effect is a socio-psychological phenomenon related to mindless-consumerism, based on two ideas. 1st - that luxury-brand we own gives us sense-of-identity and stature in the PECKING-ORDER or RAT-RACE. 2nd - the introduction of new possessions that deviates from our cold possessions, results in a process of spiralling conspicuous-consumption. This dangerous socio-psychological cycle makes us buy things we don’t need. Diderot-Effect was coined by anthropologist-scholar of consumption-patterns, Grant McCracken in 1988, and named after the wise philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784), who described the effect in his essay "Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing-Gown".

The story goes: after living his life austerely, simply and wisely, in 1763, Catherine the Great offered him a large sum of money in exchange for his library. (Diderot, a prolific reader/learner founded Encyclopédie.) Alongwith the money, he was gifted an expensive, elegant scarlet-gown... and thus began the wanting for more.

Rather than feeling content and grateful for what he had, Diderot fell into a spiral of dissatisfaction. He says in his essay there was “no more coordination, unity, beauty” in his life, because the scarlet-robe was so out-of-place in comparison to his humble belongings. So, he replaced his old straw chair, with an armchair covered in expensive leather; his old desk with an expensive writing table and so on. He began to acquire more, slowly sifting through every part of his life until he was drowning in excess, luxury, debt and most importantly, discontentment.

In the Essay he explains, "I was absolute master of my old dressing-gown, but became a slave to my new one” . How the dressing-gown led to discontentment, eventually plunging him into debt. Compared to his dressing-gown, the rest of his possessions seemed tasteless.

Ideas-for-Action: Thorstein Veblen economist-sociologist created the term "conspicuous-consumption", expenditure for acquiring luxury goods/services to publicly display economic status. To the conspicuous-consumer, such a public display of discretionary economic power is a means of displaying social-status. Many people in modern-times are victims of conspicuous-consumption. They do not understand the power of self-esteem/contentment. The lack of self-esteem/contentment is what leads to mindless-consumption.

Discontentment has huge negative repercussions and makes us anxious and depressed. A discontent mind is not a calm and a mind that is not calm, cannot create anything with excellence. If we wanna excel we need to be content. The dangerous trend is that kids are picking up discontentment from our society that thrives on conspicuous-consumption.

“What do i truly need in life?”. This simple insight is not understood, charted nor planned by many, who live their neighbours or richer-cousin's life and forget to live their own life.

Happiness is not in the next big car, house or shopping-escapade. 

Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses’ is the folly of most. We want bigger cars/homes than our neighbours or richer-cousins. We need to stop wanting more and learn to be content. Get out of the PECKING-ORDER/RAT-RACE. Let’s Get a life.

Neuroscience-research proves that discontentment creates huge mental/emotional health concerns, while understanding contentment and the attitude of gratitude, leads to happiness. Many people are victims of this mental/emotional imbalance and our kids also end up, always wanting more, accumulating more and desiring more and in the process become discontent, ungrateful and unhappy. It is very important to teach our kids mindful and careful- consumption.  MORE IS NOT MORE. LESS IS MORE

Remember the pursuit of happiness is a fake concept. Happiness is inside-out! when people don’t understand this, it leads to huge mental/emotional illness, lack of self-esteem and discontentment. Let us understand and learn this from The Diderot-Effect.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Jerry is a management & OD consultant, celebrated inspirational orator, teacher, UN advisor, internationally certified leadership subject matter expert, trainer, Executive coach and an effective, innovative fundraiser and missionary entrepreneur

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