A twelve-year-old girl was in despair. In mid-December she complained to her teacher, “I’m in trouble! I don’t know what I want for Christmas.” She had spent the last four months at a foreign language academy without television. “I haven’t even seen TV since I left home. How am I supposed to know what I want for Christmas?”
This girl is an innocent victim of the dark side of western culture—materialism. Like her, when we feel deprived of essential wants and comforts, we realize how much we have also been taken in.
It starts small. Children’s television is a deluge of junk food commercials, newer-better-noisier toys, and other enticements. Over time, these entertainments and pleasures steadily turn children into little tyrants of material satisfaction. Children are not the only targets. The average American watches nearly FIVE HOURS of TV a day. These hours spent in a zombie-like state receiving a steady stream of suggestions can sweep both children and adults away into a tide of consumerism.
Convinced that we must have these new gadgets and toys, we will do anything to attain them. In the years before the economic downturn, everyone who was anyone had to have an SUV, despite their inflated price and gas-guzzling motors.
When something breaks, we rejoice. It is the chance to get something newer, better, and faster—a new computer, a better toaster, a bigger TV, or a snazzier cell phone. Over the years, such consumerism made spending soar, credit card debt snowball, and the inflated housing market crumble.
Now that we are also feeling the pinch, many are crying out like Chicken Little, “The sky is falling.” Some have lost their stocks, others their big family vacation, others their over-sized house, or even their job. That hurts.
There is another way to look at it. Nothing has been taken away in the economic crisis that makes our lives truly happy or meaningful. Many of us still have our families. We still have our health. We still have freedom. We still have time. We have a life. In fact, this economic crisis has the potential to make us happier, freer, and better.
It is a startling thought. How can an economic crisis make someone happier? It is not by stimulating buyers to spend their tax returns that will turn things around. We need a different kind of “economic stimulus package.”
1. Increase the value of time. Some of us were planning a dream family vacation to Overpriced Amusement, but now it is postponed indefinitely. Convert this disappointment into a priceless opportunity to discover the value of time. Time invested in being together and in enjoying each other’s company—out of range of your cell phone, TV, and MP3 player—pays dividends.
2. Trimming the fat. Aren’t the gas prices crippling our budgets? It is a great opportunity to cut back and shed excess baggage. I don’t mean buying a hybrid car. We can discover our hidden capacity to make sacrifices and to be self-disciplined. When we take away that manicure or that Friday night at the bar, we find that there is more joy in the little things—writing a letter, reading a book, and playing with the kids.
3. Investments that yield. Many of us are pining for our tax returns. This money can burn in our pockets to be spent on something that would make life more comfortable and pleasant. Those who have more common sense will want to invest or pay off a debt. This is all good and necessary. But, few people know that there is a fund that will yield more than any bank or 401k. Invest in people, in the needy, in those who are working for others. This act of giving multiplies itself by changing lives. Giving makes the giver freer and lets him see that there is something good inside him; he does have a heart. When we give, we assure that we are not like those people who obsess about their things and forget about others.
Following this “Economic Stimulus Package: brings a different kind of growth—personal growth. We can’t do anything about the economic crisis, but we can use it to focus on the essential things in life and on living the present moment to the full. It will assure that our worries will be replaced by joy and our regrets by peace.
Biography: Jody Elson is a medical student from Carney, Nebraska. Erin Rockenhaus writes from Rhode Island where she is currently the Registrar and an Instructor at Mater Ecclesiae College.
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