Why do I want more stuff? Why do I need to get new stuff? Is it because I think it will make me happier? Is it because I think it will make me feel more secure and at peace? Is it because I am a greedy, selfish person? Yes. All of the above. From my own experience, however, these are more subtle reasons for my consumerism. The more foundational reasons for why I purchase and acquire more stuff tends to be how I am influenced by others.
If this sounds like I’m blaming others, it is actually quite the opposite. I see friends, family, coworkers, even strangers who own homes, newer cars, constantly re-fresh their wardrobe, and I perceive that their happiness and security is coming from what they have—from these newer, bigger, “better” things. I watch tv shows, sports, cultural events, news stories, Twitter, Facebook, advertising, and I perceive how friends and even strangers feel based on how they look, act, speak. If I have what they have, then I will feel the same way. And I think all of these perceptions are the norm. And I can’t be different—be not normal. I can’t be left behind, or I might be looked at pessimistically by others, even my friends. So, based on this train of thought, the key problem is with my perception of things. The key problem is trying to seek happiness and security by living my life in a way that conforms to what I perceive is normal, fulfilling, and accepted in other people.
Pursuing happiness, and even security, is a good thing. What we need to examine is: what is influencing our pursuit of happiness? Is our pursuit based on values grounded in truth, virtue, goodness, beauty, and holiness (and “wholeness”)? Or is my pursuit of happiness based on what the culture tells me is important, or what my perception of the people around me feels is valuable? It might be helpful to brainstorm what your values are, and what concrete things or experiences are important to you—what brings value to your life. Highlight or circle the ones that are the most important. By having these values in mind, it will help us to combat being overly influenced by what we see going on in other people’s lives.
Lord Jesus, you have given your followers an example of gentleness and peace. A task that is simple and a burden that is light. Help us to persevere in attitude, in mind, and in heart, that we will pursue happiness, not for our own self-interest or greed, but always in obedience and faithfulness to You, and in love and humility toward others. In your holy Name we pray. Amen.