I just spent a long time paging through Colin's blog, looking for a graph he drew with a bell curve, representing something like consuming vs. happy. He shows optimal points of happiness and resource consumption, demonstrating that you can take the consumption down a lot but at a certain point too much reduction becomes deprivation and the happiness dwindles.
Most people I know don't produce anything in their jobs; mostly they just push paper around. Somewhere down the line maybe something gets produced but often that's not the case. And I've noticed, among green bloggers and others, that when people produce things they're happy about - food from their gardens, clothes from recycled materials, tangible ways of helping others - they feel more satisfied and less desirous of things. Of course economists note that Americans don't produce much these days, and it might signal a big problem for the future. I'd like to think that if we become more productive - not in the modernist, perfectionist sort of way, but rather in an imperfect, grassroots kind of way - we might be less dependent on consumption. Consumption of things like tv, and gossip, and convenience products. Which, incidentally, have been known to be harmful to the environment and society.
For me, the production vs. consumption spectrum can get too productive and then somewhat destructive for me personally. When I have to come up with alternatives for every consumer product, and run all over town looking for some lower impact solution, my happiness also gets compromised. Everything feels hard. Which definitely isn't the point. And I'd like to leave room for the idea that not everyone wants to be a producer. It's difficult for me to watch wasters and haters let everyone else do the work for them, but I think there's something oppressive and wrong about assuming that everyone wants to be cheerfully tending a garden or making their own clothes. It's sad that personal trauma, bad luck, or simply a bad attitude keeps people from finding something they're passionate about making or doing, but I think it's a reality that active, involved people have to swallow, without getting too smug. So I'm not sure how a balance can be achieved, and for now I'm going to keep believing that one of the key ways of addressing our current environmental and social problems will be by transforming ourselves from greedy consumers into prolific producers - of ideas, art, magic, local goods, and positive, no-stuff solutions.