How Remote Societies Can Help Us Unlearn Our Western Consumerism

It's practically impossible to resist the heady mix of new tech, innovative products, and hi-powered marketing. Yet, on the other hand, some parts of the world seem to have no trouble avoiding all the noise. So is there something we can learn from them? This roundup will explore ways that remote parts of the world can teach us to unlearn some of our consumerist tendencies.

Consumer Culture Has Some Serious Drawbacks

While some people believe that consumerism is critical to ensure continued economic growth, others warn that the price we pay may be too high. Indeed, some psychologists believe that consumerism enforces pathological behavior similar to addictions. Moreover, there are many environmental implications, especially in developing nations. With inequality on the rise and the social fabric fraying at the edges, can we take a step back and figure out a better way forward?

Indigenous Peoples Have Timeless Wisdom to Spare

Interestingly, the diverse array of tribal communities worldwide may have a lot to offer. However, this is unsurprising at a second glance – they often stay relatively disconnected from mass media and the social pressure to consume more and more. So it's no wonder that we stand to learn many things from them about simplifying our lives. When indigenous peoples have substantial land ownership rights and the option to retain their traditional culture, they tend to number among the world's fairest, happiest, and most equitable societies. Here are five ways remote communities can help us unlearn some of our consumerist tendencies.

Material Wealth Does Not Equal Happiness

The Maasai people are among the most famous tribes in eastern Africa. Long renowned as fierce warriors, they have also illustrated uncommonly high subjective measures of satisfaction in their lives. Of course, this is concurrent with their relatively low level of material wealth compared to nearly every "modern" society. In fact, one report suggests they may have similar satisfaction levels to members of the Forbes 400 list. Money can buy a lot. But deep and abiding satisfaction may not have a price tag.

Less Work, More Play

People who hunt and gather for a livelihood have much more free time than we do. This may seem counterintuitive, considering the perceived difficulty of subsistence-level hunting. Nevertheless, the Agta people of the Philippines only "work" for about 20 hours per week, securing and processing their food. They spend the balance of their time at leisure with friends and family. On the other hand, the farmers of the tribe need to labor for about 30 hours per week to feed themselves. 

Foster a Strong Community

The Yanomami peoples of Venezuela and Brazil never consume the food they hunt or grow. Instead, they give it to others before even bringing it home. They, in turn, only consume what the other tribespeople have given them. Everyone eats food supplied by someone else, which fosters community spirit and solidarity. It's unlikely this trend will catch on in the US any time soon, but consider ways to take greater responsibility for community building in your life.

Don't Keep What You Don't Need

Tanzania's Hadza people strongly emphasize equality and have no formal leaders. Giving what you have without expecting anything in return is a moral duty for them. They believe that, if you have more personal belongings than you can utilize right now, you should share them with people that need help. With an attitude like this, it's no wonder they lead more satisfied lives than people in more "developed" societies and seem much less stressed by their" social status.".

Life Is Not Only About Competition

According to the Piaroa people of Venezuela, happiness comes from rejecting notions such as ownership, competitiveness, narcissism, and greed. They oppose violence, believe that men and women are equal, and never physically discipline kids. In our world of competing to out-consume our peers, perhaps we ought to believe, as the Piaroa do, that competition is the precursor to cannibalism.

Key Takeaways
  • Don't Be a Copycat – One of the best ways to stop chasing after new fashions is to place less value on how others appear. Instead, focus on building your own style. Focus on what makes you look your best, not others. 
  • Take a Breath – Real change requires introspection. You don't need to sit and rethink your entire life, but at least give some thought to the areas of your life where you may consume too much. Is it clothes? Food? Electronic gadgets? Do they really help you build the life you want?
  • Focus on Producing – Even though we're all consumers, we're also capable of producing. So try to give of yourself, whether it's something physical you make, or you have knowledge to share. It will enrich everyone's lives.