What is life’s purpose in a society of over-consumption?

Once you see the world the way I have seen it, you can’t unsee it. It becomes part of you, transforming old habits into new while moulding your every day life.  I have spent the past 3 years at university totalling a debt of £27,000 in tuition fees alone, while 4 month Summer breaks and opportunist times  have been spent travelling the world. It is in countries across the Americas, Asia and Europe that I have developed in character and gained extensive knowledge most. It is also in these places that I have encountered some of the most selfless acts from strangers and discovered a true passion that brings the largest of smiles to my face. That is at least until I return home.

How is it that I can walk endlessly through streets, fields and mountainous terrain in foreign countries, yet when I return home I feel at a loss. I cannot help but observe our actions as part of a larger consumer society that we live in. We are a country of wealth and through this we have adopted a self-indulgent quality of over-producing greed. We have more resources than we can consume, yet how is it that we have homelessness and poverty in this very country? And more so, how is it that I, a foreigner, am greeted with upmost respect and the warmth of an old friend by a stranger in a continent I had never stepped foot on before?

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If there is one thing that I have learnt from travelling, in LEDCs more so, it is that we can all give a little more than we think we can or do. Experiences encountered on an international level have a magic like no other, they stay with us and re-shape our values and what we see as important to us when we are home. I am really struggling to understand how we all benefit from this endless cycle of production and consumption, or on a more important level how people are truly happy with it. Are you?

Call it the naivety or lack of life experience from a soon-to-be graduate, but from observation it seems like continuous investment in temporary products is used as a distraction tool from work and is where people look to find happiness. But the truth is, the most rewarding things in life come from the things that give us true purpose and fulfilment: communication, understanding and service to others. And it is to these three elements that I find ultimate happiness. Meeting new people, understanding other cultures and views that I may not necessarily agree with, and being part of positive change or impact in people’s lives.

This may seem slightly cynical to some, but once you can see and are aware of your actions you become the biggest critic of your actions. It is through this that I afford to travel so much. The more I am aware of my actions, the more decisive I have become. I am guilty of measuring materialistic items against the price of flights, for example I could have bought a new top for £25 that will hang amongst the dozens of others in my wardrobe, or I could have booked a flight to Copenhagen – which is exactly what I did. After all, you can only wear one top at a time…

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Photo Credit: Guinness World Record for most t-shirts worn at one time.

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