Growing up in a world that focuses on what one’s life looks like from the outside has evoked several issues in our society—one of them being a powerful emphasis on the importance of having many, many “things”. Growing up, I encountered several occurrences where I found myself begging my parents to buy me something. Whether it was a hoverboard, designer clothes, tickets to a Justin Bieber concert, the newest iPhone, or any of the latest fads, I somehow thought that having cool things would make me a cool person. Sure, I really love my iPhone and I LOVED the Justin Bieber concert, but I am really beginning to understand that, ultimately, having “things” is not what makes me happy, and that having lots of things really doesn’t matter as much as much as I once thought.
I vividly remember thinking about this subject for the first time when I was nine years old. I was at a pretty high-end store, and I saw some girls my age taking clothing off of the racks, and throwing them at their mothers. I heard their moms say, “Oh my, this is so cute! Of course you can get it!” And the girls proceeded to make piles of clothes that they wanted to purchase. I looked at my mom and started to beg her to get me things, too. My mom reminded me that I really didn’t need anything, but she did allow me to pick out one shirt. I was happy, but when I realized the superfluous amount of clothing that these girls were planning to purchase, I began to feel very jealous. However, it was then that I observed something that stuck with me for all of these years. I saw how ungrateful they were acting. I watched as the girls stood at the cash register mindlessly laughing and joking with one another, not paying attention at all as their mothers swiped their credit cards to pay for their purchases that cost more than five hundred dollars each, and then I noticed that neither of the girls really cared much, and not one of them even said thank you to their moms. Something clicked in me… I realized that watching these girls ungraciously receiving piles and piles of clothes almost succeeded in preventing me from feeling appreciation for the shirt that my mom was so generous to buy me. We were next in line, and my mom and I walked up to the cash register to purchase my shirt. I turned to my mom, hugged her, and said, “Thank you, mom.”
Later, I talked to my mom about my feelings and she helped me to see that it is hard for many people to appreciate “things” when they have so many “things” and when they tend to get everything they want. And that one day, someone is going to say “no” to those kids, and they may not know how to handle that.
I’m not saying that my parents don’t buy me things, because they do. They buy me plenty and I am very fortunate. But because of how I was raised, I don’t get so upset when I hear the word “no” (well, ok…sometimes I do!) and I definitely have much more gratitude for everything that I do have. Now, having “things” does not matter to me as much as it used to. My parents are not very materialistic and would rather spend money on experiences that we will always remember, like really awesome family vacations. Personally, I love exploring new places and I would rather do that than spend a bunch of money on a meaningless shopping spree. When traveling, I get to see and experience new things and I get to bond with the people I love most in this world; my family.
As I get older, I am learning more and more that when I buy things, they don’t make me happy. Being around people I love makes me happy. Doing things I love makes me happy. Learning things and living my life to the fullest makes me happy. Every single time I have gone shopping, I have taken notice that when I come back home, I am not a happier person. And even if getting something does seem to make me happy, the happiness is almost always short term.
Recently, I watched a documentary about minimalism with my family, and I think the concept is intriguing. It showed people who choose to live very simple lives with very few possessions. One thing that was said really struck me— they mentioned that the American dream seems to include that “having more and having bigger is better.” But, really, why would families live in these huge homes on these huge pieces of land that force them to be so far away from each other? I, myself, have often wished for a bigger house. Why is that? Because everywhere I look: on TV, in magazines, online— EVERYWHERE— people associate the word “beautiful” and “ideal” with these enormous houses, and the big houses filled with lots of beautiful stuff implies that that the people who live there have lives that are perfect.
The thing is, when we watched this documentary, we were at my cottage up north, which is very not big, and we were all snuggled up on the couch… together as a family…in our one room that has a TV. To me, THAT was perfect. Would we be spending this much time together, cuddling, if we were in a huge house? Probably not.
I know that many people do love “things” and want big houses, and I am not here to offend those people. It’s just that as I’m learning more about myself, I am learning more about who I’m not. And I am not striving to live the American dream where bigger and more is better…I am striving to live my own dream— a life filled with less “things” and and an abundance of living, learning, simplicity, gratitude, happiness, and love.
Oh…and a lot more snuggling on the couch with my family.