Joy is not in things; it is in us.
This time of year in the U.S., stores and malls swell with crowds. We are often rushed and stressed to get shopping done for the holidays. Ads and window displays entice us with prices, fairy tale images, and no lack of bright shiny things. While the pull to give gifts and make epic meals is strong, sometimes I find it helpful to stop and think about the larger picture.
Imagine if each time we considered purchasing something, we could actually see what it took to create and transport that item to its final destination—my closet, your plate, for instance. For that sweater you’ve been wanting or that electronic gadget you planned to buy a friend, envision the raw materials it takes, the facility it’s made in, the people whose hands craft or handle the product. Then, imagine the impact this item has on our world over the next 100 years. What becomes of it when I no longer need or want it? Where will its plastic components or batteries land?
I know, it’s a lot to ponder. At the same time, even if we considered what it took to make a fraction of what we consume, my guess is that we would alter our habits. I’ve been trying to do this and though I admit I’m not consistent, I weigh my purchases more carefully and bring fewer items into my home. When I’m mindful, I also ask myself some basic questions: Why do I want to buy this? Is it because I’m concerned about what others think of me? Do I think buying it will make me feel better? Do I feel pressure to buy it? Is it a meaningful gift from the heart?
I’ve certainly succumbed and will likely continue to be driven by tendencies to acquire “things.” My hope is to calm them, to be more mindful of what I buy and of the short- and long-term environmental and human impact my purchases have.
While the scenario above is a little sci-fi, it’s meant as an invitation for us to take a pause and think not only about the affect our purchasing behavior has on the world, but also to increase our awareness of and empathy for other beings and people.
If you’re feeling the pull to buy, buy, buy, especially during this holiday season, and you want to get a handle on our “problem with stuff,” check out the Story of Stuff website and join a growing movement to “build a society based on better not more, sharing not selfishness, community not division.”
Now, imagine if presence were the greatest gift we gave this holiday season.
Roselle Kovitz, a member of Fetzer’s social media team, is a writer and communication consultant who lives in Seattle.