Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that Americans in general seem angrier. My observation has been seconded by friends and colleagues who mention the increased frequency of emotional outbursts: incidents of road rage, domestic disputes between spouses, and workplace flare-ups.
People have always been impatient in traffic. They’ve always become frustrated with their loved ones. And they’ve always had issues with their coworkers. But now, for some reason, we seem to have a shorter fuse. Why? The sources of each person’s anger or frustration are as numerous and unique as the people themselves, to be sure.
However, I think it’s fair to point out one possible cause that may be affecting our society as a whole. That is, namely, that we are continuously marketing products and a illusory lifestyle. On television and the internet, in magazines and newspapers, we’re tempted with luxury items, services, and experiences for sale (or rent) that promise the good life. And, for many previous generations of Americans, those things were possible. Economic times were generally good. It was easy to believe that if you couldn’t afford something today, you could work, earn, and, if necessary, save in order to buy whatever it is you want and live the good life.
The problem now is that, after the financial crisis of 2007, the economy has not really bounced back for many Americans. Instead, what many single young people and families face is a “new normal”: things aren’t as good as they were, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get better.
Specifically, jobs aren’t plentiful, and jobs with living-wage salaries and benefits (and opportunity for growth…?) could even be categorized as rare in many parts of the country. A college education, that age-old key to upward mobility, is so costly, many young Americans are graduating with a financial piano on their back. Many families saw the equity in their homes, a time-tested and often major nest-egg for much of the middle class, evaporate. And still, advertisers come at us relentlessly as if we had all the disposable income in the world.
We have been conditioned to want nice things. We feel, in some instances, like we are entitled to them. We “need” them. But, in many cases, we can’t afford them. And this makes us angry.
Of course, I’m generalizing, as I said. But this societal reaction is not exclusive to the United States. It’s happening in India, as young men migrate from rural areas to cities for work. They hunger for the promise of a better life, and when the jobs in the city aren’t there, and their lives are not improved as they’d hoped, they become angry…and violent. It’s not a stretch to conclude that we’re seeing the same thing in America now.
There are two things we should do in order to get a handle on this collective anger. The first is to be aware of it. Sometimes it’s very difficult to articulate the source of our discontent. If we have insecurities, anxieties, or fears about our financial situation, we have to admit it, come to grips with it, and figure out a realistic plan of action to address it.
Second, we need to retreat from what I’ve referred to as the “consumer merry-go-round” which keeps us eager to purchase the next new thing in order to fill an emotional void. That void should be filled with purpose, family, friends, leisure activities, and perhaps spirituality or religion, not clothes, jewelry, and cars.
Yes, we need money to live. But prioritizing it for health, education, and financial independence is much more likely to bring longterm satisfaction and quality of life. These seemingly elusive goals really what we seek when we look to purchase those shiny new objects in the store window.
And no, I’m nut in any way suggesting that anyone give up on or compromise their dreams and goals. Swing for the fence. Reach for the stars. We as Americans believe that we can do anything. And we can. We just need to constantly evaluate and refine what we are trying to do, and why.
In a moment of reflection, we can get our bearings, reframe our priorities, and possibly uproot the source of our anger before it gets the better of us.