By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC
Shopping and the Pursuit of Happiness
Iam writing this month’s column during my annual family visit in Oregon. During the weeks I’ve been here, I’ve repeatedly felt overwhelmed by the quantities of “stuff” I see everywhere. Warehouse stores, malls, aisle after aisle of floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with anything you can imagine, and many things I never could. Thrift stores are filled to overflowing with donated castoffs. The Sunday paper is a two-inch stack of a store flyers wrapped in a few pages of news and the daily mail brings dozens more.
To some, I’m sure this is a shopper’s dream—finding not only the item you were looking for, but a dazzling array of brands, colors, styles, and features. For me, it can be a bit too much. I’ve even left the store a couple of times without purchasing anything because the abundance of options for a seemingly simple item was so great I couldn’t decide which to get.
Shopping in our Lakeside stores and markets, I’ve grown accustomed to small inventories. When I need dish soap at SuperLake, I buy one of the two or three kinds they have for sale. In the supermegamarket here in Oregon, I was faced with an eight-foot wide, four-shelf high array of various concoctions promising to give me sparkling dishes and softer hands. I’m just not sure I need that many choices.
The new iPhone was introduced yesterday. One and a half million of these things were sold in just the first day. People camped out in the street all night to be assured of getting one before they sold out.
The media has done a superb job of creating perceived needs and turning people into perpetual consumers. The bumper on a sporty little car in front of me the other day proclaimed, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Television commercials and print advertising generate a sense of need and inadequacy if we don’t get the latest greatest new gadget or product. Happiness appears to be only a purchase away.
But having all this stuff doesn’t seem to be making people up here very happy. They’re all in a hurry, faces looked stressed, and I hear frequent complaints about the pressure of juggling their ever-mounting bills.
A study by the National Sleep Foundation reports that nearly 40% of employed Americans put in more than 50 hours each week. These hard workers average only about six hours of sleep a night.
Long hours and inadequate sleep combined with the pressures of a struggling economy can leave people feeling empty inside. Trying to fill this emptiness with stuff just doesn’t work. No matter how much stuff one gets, because of adaptation, a new treasure soon loses its thrill, and we need to get something more to re-ignite that elusive feeling of happiness.
The Dalai Lama says, “I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter…Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.”
It has been said that one’s riches consist not in the extent of your possessions, but in how few your wants are. Practice increasing your wealth by treasuring your relationships, not your possessions. Remember that the Dalai Lama also wisely advises that “not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”