Dec 20, 2013 |
A new book by St. Bonaventure University sociology professor William Elenchin, Ph.D., explores the paradox of today’s culture, where society’s dependence on overconsumption is often accompanied by a growing sense of sadness.
Elenchin’s goal in writing “Happy Without the Meal: Reflections from Catholic Faith and Reason” is to shine light on some of the key social changes that have created a toxic cultural atmosphere in the midst of material abundance.
“The more we have, the more we’re struggling,” he said.
No generation has ever had such an abundance of material goods at its fingertips. An already saturated marketplace is flooded with products. Yet in the midst of such plenty, many people experience distress and a growing sense of sadness in spite of excess possessions.
Elenchin maintains that the pursuit of the “goods life” has been confused with seeking a good life.
“My sense is that we have reached a point in history where we can readily see how false has been the promise of happiness and fulfillment through a life of consumption. New discoveries in the social sciences are aligning with old teachings from faith traditions and point toward the same true north regarding principles of wellbeing and happiness,” Elenchin said.
Elenchin cites the book “Character Strengths and Virtues” as an example. In the book, scholars extract six character traits established by research in the social sciences shown to enhance health and happiness. The authors note that these same character strengths align with St. Thomas Aquinas’ seven heavenly virtues from a millennium past.
Elenchin’s motivation for writing “Happy Without the Meal” stems from his experiences as a therapist, a sociologist and as a parent.
“There’s such a force out there, we need to understand this myth that’s saturated our senses,” he said.
Happiness can’t be bought, eaten or somehow consumed. In the chapter “The Stress of Leisure,” he describes the overconsumption of food and increase in obesity in the United States.
“Food is now marketed primarily as a source of happiness, not nutrition,” Elenchin says. And that marketing plays a critical role: Corporations spend 30 times more money to advertise preserved products than they do fresh food.
In his eighth year of teaching at St. Bonaventure, Elenchin’s sociology classes are populated by a generation that has grown up in this culture.
“The teachings of the Christian faith are anchored in a natural joy and freedom, peace and strength. The cheap counterfeits of these virtues are passed off as pleasure and license in an ever-expanding culture of consumption,” Elenchin said.
The author is not suggesting technology should be abandoned — but notes it’s dangerous to confuse ease with progress.
“Those who make that mistake risk losing a life of meaning and purpose,” he said.
For instance, in 2012, Facebook reported that 83 million users, almost 10 percent of its accounts, were fake.
“It’s important to recognize the simple truth that a virtual life is not a real life. Cyber life doesn’t nourish us like real life. We always want more because there is little and at times no sustenance,” Elenchin said.
“Happy Without the Meal,” published by Wipf & Stock, is available at www.wipfandstock.com and amazon.com. Elenchin is also the author of “Hidden Courage: Reconnecting Faith and Character with Mental Wellness.”
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