Is Conspicuous Consumption Blocking Our Happiness?

Conspicuous consumption is an action that a majority of our society takes part in. It consumes our lives and robs us of reaching our true potential and unlocking our happiness. This is something that almost everybody is guilty of (there are exceptions, of course!). However, it is important to recognize when you partake in CC and your motives why. By understanding CC, we can obtain a better look at ourselves and help us be better humans.

Please partake with my rather playful approach to critiquing something we all do as human beings 🙂

So what’s conspicuous consumption anyway?

Conspicuous consumption is being showy with your expensive purchases. In other words, it’s being shallow (yikes, I know).

 For example, it is the difference between buying something because you like it and you think it’s cool VS buying something because it’s expensive and you want to show people that you can afford it.

CC is the application of spending money and other resources to display higher culture. When I say higher culture, I mean, the rich, famous and elite. The people who hold power over the common people like you and me. In other words, we feel insecure. Therefore, we try to copy the practices of the elite by involving ourselves in conspicuous consumption to show our social status.

Why is it bad?

1.We are setting a bad example for future generations

Consider how we talk about celebrities as “role models.” It really is quite interesting how there is more status attached to celebrities and entertainers than teachers or professors. Some youth are being raised to think of fame and wealth as goals.

I want to hear a young teen have a role model other than Kylie Jenner or a Kardashian. I want to hear a young woman say “I want to be like Frida Khalo!” Like yeah! Now, that’s awesome.

We also need to teach our children to be grateful for what they have and to work hard for what they want to earn in life.

For example, we are privileged in ways we take for granted– like attending school. Take a moment and be thankful.

It’s 2:53: Class will start soon, and I am grateful. A lot of people wish they could be in this university classroom seat like I am today.

2.We can’t enjoy “the now” because we are too focused on creating a fake “perfect life”

Through the use of new technology, conspicuous consumption has been really easy to take part in. Do you use your social media to post your lavish lifestyle?  We really should revisit our intentions behind our social media postings.

Oh, you went brunch on a rooftop in Austin, and suddenly, there is that undeniable urge to post it on your Snapchat Story.

OMG! I am so guilty! I am physically sick. But Hey, it’s okay. WE ARE NOT PERFECT. Don’t feel attacked if this is also you. I believe a lot of people do this in today’s digital age. But like I said before, let’s notice when we do these things and take a step back.

And yeah, it’s frustrating when we see our super-rich friends or super rich strangers flaunting their money around on the internet. It looks like they have the best life ever. But I promise you, they don’t. No amount of money in the world can make someone truly happy. Also, consider this, a lot of people you are seeing on the internet (like extremely wealthy kids) didn’t earn their money and are benefiting from money from their parents. For real-life examples: See the Tumblr account: “Rich Kids of Instagram.”

Rich Kids of Instagram

Emilee happiness tip: Invest your time in good, genuine people who make you happy. Find something you’re passionate about and run with it. Don’t let people treat you like you aren’t awesome because, hey, you’re freakin’ awesome.

Why are we so obsessed with showing our Gucci belts or our expensive boat shoes (when we don’t even own a freaking boat!)? Seriously, why do we do these things? I am not saying your expensive purchases are bad. However, I am saying that we should be examining our motives behind our purchases.

With that being said, different groups buy conspicuously different things. For example, in Austin, if you are a hiker, you have to have the best hiking gear– like you can only wear Patagonia, North Face, etc. if you want to fit in. If you work out, maybe you only wear Lulu Lemon? These are more examples.

Am I buying this because I really like this or am I buying this because I want to impress people around me?

It’s okay to be you and not have every super-fancy thing in the world! But above all, create genuine happiness; don’t buy it.

3.It’s not financially “smart”

Do you know someone who spent their whole paycheck on a purchase and, as a result, didn’t have the funds to even support themselves?

This happens every day. Like buying a car we can’t afford or putting pressure on our boyfriends to buy us an expensive engagement ring that is way out of their price range or give us a fairytale wedding. These are social constructs that we have created.

We are so sorry, our dear boyfriends for putting that unnecessary stress on you. :/

4.We are not making social progress.

We, as a society, need to think about things we are doing so we can change the world. I am not saying to get up, move to a different country to do social work. No! We aren’t perfect. We can never be perfect. However, find a cause that you want to support. Maybe we should be thinking about standing up for children in need, protecting our environment, or helping with world hunger.

Instead, we are selfish (once again, this statement doesn’t apply to everyone. There are outliers).

Like why did I just sit down and waste hours watching the Kardashians or MTV Cribs instead of turning it off and realizing it’s garbage? Reality TV is like candy. It’s so fun to watch, but watching too much is detrimental to our mental health.

  • We are sustaining these lavish lifestyles because we are so obsessed
  • Let’s get up and make a change!!!


The idea of conspicuous consumption originates from Thorstein Veblen, an American economist and sociologist. Veblen wrote about this concept in The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions in 1899. He leaves a highly detailed critique of social class consumerism in his book.

Here are some of Veblen’s viewpoints. Please note, I am not saying these ideas or wrong or right. That is for you to decide 😉 You do not have to agree with Veblen. However, just think about these ideas from his book.

  • People are irrational, economic creatures
  • We live in a world where we are raised to want social status.
  • He argued that we should take social and cultural issues into account
  • We pursue social status without thinking of consequences
  • Veblen saw the rise of conspicuous consumption in America as regression, the exact opposite of social progress.

So, how can an idea from over a century ago still be relevant today?

Because, we, as a society, still take part in conspicuous consumption. Instead of aristocrats of the early 19th century, individuals in our culture are trying to emulate celebrities.

Look, I don’t have the answers. Is conspicuous consumption bad, good or irrelevant? That’s a decision for you to decide. I laid out some concepts for you to think about. Let me know your views.

Author: Emilee Hall

Emilee Hall is a freelance illustrator and content creator. She has acquired a BS in Public Relations and Mass Communication from Texas State University. In her free time, Emilee loves to dance funky at concerts and eat hot dogs at sporting events.

3 thoughts on “Is Conspicuous Consumption Blocking Our Happiness?”

  1. Woah!! This is awesome!! Thank you so much for sharing it with me. I loved the discussion, and LOVED LOVED LOVED the sketches!! Truly masterful how you weaved your critiques, reflection, your art, and other pop culture we all recognize. Nicely done! 🙂


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