AS writers of the 1970s looked to the future, they saw a world where technological advances would free people from the task of having to make a living, and we could instead spend our time doing anything we pleased.
Technology would take care of our chores, and work would be reduced to a few hours per week, as Clive Hamilton’s book Affluenza describes.
And those of the past would have marvelled at our flat screen televisions, mobile phones with access to an entire world of information, cars with complete climate control, delivery drivers bringing our favourite meals to our door and the ability to speak directly to celebrities and politicians alike on social media.
But as our society has become richer – to a point where Australia is one of the most affluent societies in human history – studies continue to find we’ve become progressively unhappier.
It appeared that having access to every material thing imaginable was not the end point of human happiness.
A Newspoll from the 2000s found that almost half of the richest 20 per cent of households in Australia believed they could not afford to buy everything they needed. More than a quarter of those believed they spent all of their money on “basic necessities of life”.
This was in the middle of the mining boom when middle class welfare was flowing, budget surpluses were the norm and housing prices had not yet skyrocketed.
Since then, household debt has continued to rise with consumer products among the main sources of spending, while governments now complain of “debt and deficit” issues and the need to cut funding in one place, in order to provide funding in another.
Public funding for important services suffers as a result – few more so than support for mental health, where hospitals like Bendigo are accused of struggling to staff psychiatric facilities. Community health services constantly face funding uncertainty, at the mercy of a politician and a pen.
R U OK Day suggests we should ask each other about our mental health. Maybe we should also be asking politicians and ourselves – what are our spending priorities?