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Earth Overshoot Day: Helping young people be more resilient to consumerist pressures
Posted by : Natasha Parker, Global Action Plan


Global Action Plan (Coordinators of Transform Our World) has spent the last two years researching how to help young people be more resilient to consumerist pressure. Our findings have now been published in an article in the European Journal of Positive Psychology.  


We wanted to understand if it was possible to help young people turn away from materialistic goals and if so, how? We teamed up with the University of Surrey and an international panel of academic experts to help us put this question to the test.


Consumerism: Bad for us, bad for the planet

In order to live well within the earth’s limits we need to prioritise ways of living that enable us to have more fun with less stuff, yet young people are exposed to an extraordinary volume of advertising that encourages them to seek fun, happiness and self-worth through wanting or buying more.


Decades of research tell us that people who prioritise materialistic goals in life such as image, status and wealth, (or as we like to call them - looks, likes and shopping!) have lower wellbeing and higher ecological footprints. When we say “lower wellbeing”, we don’t just mean they’re a bit less happy, we mean they are significantly more likely to suffer from a whole range of indicators of psychological ill-being such as loneliness, eating disorders, depression and anxiety. There is no shortage of evidence demonstrating that materialistic goals are bad for our mental health.  


Encouraging young people to aspire towards materialistic goals sets them up for a lifetime of hyper-consumption. It becomes ever more important to have the latest clothes, make-up, phones and technology, then later in life the big house, the expensive car and the luxury holidays. These materialistic aspirations that many of us have got used to as “normal” rely on the illusion of infinite resources and on the oppression of people who make our goods to keep them affordable. The increasingly short lifespan of trends then means that our prized possessions quickly become either technologically or psychologically redundant, turning them into waste.


From the jaw-dropping stats about the destruction of rainforests, extinction of animals, plastics in the ocean, child labour and impending climate change caused by all this over consumption of stuff we don’t need that doesn’t make us happy, the cost to both people and planet of our consumerist culture is huge.


Setting Goals for Good: We designed a course called ‘Goals for Good’, using the latest research to find out what might work to reduce materialism and enhance wellbeing. The initial course was run with young adults and we asked participants to set goals for themselves using the 5 ways to wellbeing; Connect, Keep Learning, Be Active, Take Notice and Give. We then asked them to consider how they could tweak their goals to have a positive impact on other people or the planet - a Goal for Good.


Our findings showed that participants that took part in the Goals for Good course had a significantly reduced materialistic goal orientation, meaning that we can help young people be more resilient to consumerist pressures. The course was therefore developed to be run with youth and schools, and in workplaces.


As an educator, you can take an active role in supporting the mental health of young people through running this course. You can access our free Youth Goals for Good toolkits on Transform Our World here.


You find out more about why we created Goals for Good in the video below.




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