We live in a messed up world. No, let me rephrase that, we live in a messed up society. No, let me be even more specific. We are messed up because we live in a consumer society which throws the natural balance so out of true that we actually think that this is the way things are supposed to be.
Do you know what a consumer society is? It is a society that has been designed to (drumroll please) CONSUME. Everything about the way that society works is tied to the purchasing of more stuff.
That’s right, our entire society is based on the concept of consumption.
Now don’t get me wrong, consumption is a necessary part of life. I mean, everyone has to eat, so food needs to be grown or purchased. Everyone needs shelter so houses are built and bought or apartments are rented out. We have to keep warm. We have to keep the lights on. We have to keep the water running. We have to keep ourselves clothed. But these are necessities.
What I am talking about when I say a consumer society is a society where the purchase of unnecessary surplus stuff is the end game. It is why buy a car we can’t afford to drive to a job we hate to be able to afford to buy stuff we don’t need in order to impress people who couldn’t care less about us.
We are bombarded daily with advertisements and marketing ploys that try to coerce us into buying yet more stuff. We are encouraged to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous and are subtly (and not so subtly) exposed to the notion that the latest fashion, the newest upgrade, the coolest gadgets or the largest big screen TV will somehow, magically, bring us happiness.
Thanks to our continual cultural immersion in the concept of “buying” happiness most people’s first instinct when they are feeling down is to go out and buy something. For those who find themselves consistently unsatisfied in their work or in their relationships, this can translate into a serious problem with binge shopping taking the place of getting right down to the heart of the underlying issues.
I was once just as hooked into the idea of buying happiness as anyone else. I was stuck in a loveless marriage and working a dead end job. Shopping gave me a temporary boost that always drained away as soon as I got home and unpacked my bags. And then, 18 months ago, I was given a gift; a chance to start over again; a chance to re-create my life from the ground up.
I found myself with a single car load of clothes books and personal items 600 miles from where I had lived for the previous 12 years, signing a lease for a totally unfurnished apartment. My first night spent on an air mattress and eating standing up at the counter made me feel a bit like a college student in her first apartment. But as I looked around at the gorgeously bare rooms I knew that, at the age of 46, I was being handed a once in a lifetime opportunity; the opportunity to create for myself exactly the kind of life that I had always wanted.
The first order of business, of course, was to furnish my apartment. I needed everything, from furniture and linens to kitchen items, lamps, rugs and everything in between. And it was then that I made my first rule I wasn’t going to have anything in my apartment that I didn’t absolutely love. In fact, I was in the middle of making a list of things I needed for my apartment when it dawned on me that I needed to be using this same rule of thumb for everything in my life whether it was things or people.
I began weighing everything – and everyone in my lift by one those two simple guidelines; did I absolutely love them? And, did they make me smile?
You’d be surprised, or maybe not, to see just what a difference these guidelines made in my life. Instead of just letting everyone in; instead of spreading myself too thin doing things for people who were only concerned with how much I could do for them, I had surrounded myself with those who truly cared, not just for what I could do for them, but for who I was, as a person.
When it came to things I also found that when you are dealing with things you absolutely love you find that there is a natural limit in the amount of things you can have in your life before you reach your saturation point. And so, because I didn’t need more than I had, instead of just buying to make myself feel better, I had to find a new way of dealing with unhappiness in my life. And you know what I found? I found that experiences trump things every time.
Doing thing with, going on adventures with the people who mattered most made for a far more satisfying life than just accumulating more things because the “getting” of them felt so good. Taking long walks, having long talks, playing games, making memories, that was what life was all about.
Who knows, maybe in some small way I am, by choosing not to engage in unfettered consumption, contributing to the downfall of our economy, perhaps even our society. But I’ll take that risk. The satisfaction I get from accumulating experiences and smiles and laughter and love far outweigh the temporary satisfaction to be had from stuffing myself and my home with non-necessities.