I hope it’s not too soon to say it, but you probably spent too much money this holiday season. It’s understandable, and I am not without compassion for you or your bank statement. Your list was no doubt long, those on it probably had expensive tastes, and you were expected to spend more than you had.
You have been trained to behave like this, after all, as have I and the several generations before us. By busting the bank each year, we do exactly what we have been conditioned to do, for somewhere along the line we shifted from being a contributing society to being a consumer society. Buying, acquiring, and getting is the truest mark of modern America.
Over time, we have been acclimatized to a life of covetousness, desire, and envy (There is also that phrase I hear so often from the sphere of marketing: “You deserve this!”). And if we are fortunate enough to already have in our possession that wished-for item, we want more of it – or at least a more shiny, more expensive, more up-to-date model of the same.
Is it any wonder that we are the most addictive society in the world? We substitute feeling good for fulfillment; pleasure for contentment; desire for happiness; and hunger for gratification. We have been trained to seek euphoric highs, insatiable cravings, and to never be satisfied.
There is a Proverb from the Hebrew Scriptures that reads as a prayer. “O God, I beg a favor from you,” the writer asks. “Give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.” The writer recognizes the twin dangers of wealth. Too much of it, and it can ruin a person, converting he or she into someone grotesque, arrogant, and greedy. If one has too little wealth, it can lead to desperation and poverty.
This ancient wisdom is something that we, all these centuries later, have begun to talk about again: Balance, equity, and one of today’s popular conceptions, “minimalism.” We are learning that the endless wanting and conspicuous consumption of the “gimme generation” will not satisfy us. It’s not good for us – or the planet – no matter what all those commercials and pop-up ads tell us.
So, I make you this guarantee for your new year. You will be happier, freer, and more satisfied with life if you rid yourself of all excess, and give up the empty compulsion for more. It will be like losing weight (It’s no coincidence that there is link between our consumerism and our obesity; we are the heaviest country in the Northern Hemisphere).
By consuming less – with both our diets and our credit cards – we will feel better, will be lighter on our feet, will be in far better shape, and much more healthy. In the words of the icon Henry David Thoreau, “Simplify, simplify. And once you have secured the necessaries of life, then you can confront the true problems of life with freedom.”
Photo by Emile Seguin