We live in a funny and unique day. On the whole, Americans have never enjoyed so much “stuff.” We have more possessions and live in a more materialistic era than at any point in the last century. At the same time, we are less happy than in past days. Go figure.
I’ve written earlier about teen’s unhappiness globally. Studies show teens in England and America are actually less happy than their peers in developing nations. What’s more, George Monbiot in The Guardian writes, “In one study, the researchers tested a group of 18-year-olds, then re-tested them 12 years later. They were asked to rank the importance of different goals—jobs, money and status on the one side, and self-acceptance, empathy and belonging on the other. They were then given a standard diagnostic test to identify mental health problems. At the ages of both 18 and 30, materialistic people were more susceptible to disorders. But if in that period they became less materialistic, they became happier.”
The Root of the Issue: Awareness
Part of our problem is the very day in which we live. Thanks to social media and marketing, we are more “aware” than ever. It is the marketer’s job to make us feel insufficient, inadequate, needy. If we do, we’ll buy a product or a service. And that’s what they get paid to do—to get us to buy something. Similarly, a friend can post what she got for Christmas. Suddenly, we feel discontent with what we have—which can fuel our own materialism. It’s a vicious cycle. By merely making us aware, they feed our appetites. Here’s the cycle in which most of us find ourselves:
- I see an ad on television or a post on social media.
- I become aware that a product or service is available.
- Then, I see some people I know who have it. I fear missing out.
- I feed my appetite for the product, which only creates more craving.
Journalist Alexa Mills summarizes the issue this way: “People will look at someone with a lavish lifestyle filled with expensive things and think that they’re living a much more blissful life than themselves. This is a view that society embeds into our brains to the point that people spend their whole lives striving for money over happiness. And this is a major flaw with our world.”
What We Can Do This Holiday Season
My friend, author Andy Stanley, recently said, “Lack doesn’t fuel discontentment. Awareness fuels discontentment.” We are all aware of what’s out there. When we buy online, smart websites will tell us: “You may also like…” When I go on Amazon’s site, I discover the site remembers what I bought last and what I may want to buy next. It’s a bit scary—unless I recognize the issue of awareness. It fuels my appetite. And when I try to satisfy my appetite, it grows. Anything you feed tends to grow.
Psychologist Steve Taylor writes, “Our appetite for wealth and material goods isn’t driven by hardship, but by our own inner discontent. We’re convinced we can buy our way to happiness, that wealth is the path to permanent fulfillment.”
So, what if we feed our awareness differently?
If awareness is what ignites our appetites and discontentment, then why not become aware of something else or something more? What if this holiday season, we make our kids self-aware of what they already have and aware of those who don’t have what we have? More than once, our family has spent time on Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving in soup kitchens or in the projects, serving those less fortunate. It was always an eye-opener. You might say—we became aware of something different.
The best way to combat bad attitudes and discontentment is to shift our awareness.
Researchers estimate that much of happiness is under personal control. It’s all about where our awareness lies. Art Muchwald said, “The best things in life aren’t things.”
Contentment Stems from a Different Awareness
Don’t get me wrong. We all have personal needs and meeting them is not wrong. But, there is a difference between appetites and hunger. Hunger is the physical need for food, but appetites are fueled by your desire for food. If only hunger was involved in eating, we’d eat until we’re full and stop. Appetites kick in and cause us to eat the wrong kinds of food and too much of it. We overeat and become overweight. It’s the same way with contentment and discontentment. We buy what we want not just what we need. We crave things—and, again, it’s almost always driven by awareness. So, this year, what if we modeled and taught our kids a counter-cultural “awareness?” What if we all paid attention to something or someone different…for our own good?
The richest people are not those who own the most, but those who need the least.
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