As a kid, I sensed that Thanksgiving was a different sort of holiday. It wasn’t about piles of presents, or going away to someplace exotic and expensive. It wasn’t about a cake and candles and more presents. It wasn’t about a basket overflowing with sweets I probably should not have been eating in those quantities, or dressing up in a costume to score more sweets.
Thanksgiving involved a very good meal, true, but more to the point, it involved gratitude and loved ones. That’s it–period. That’s the reason for the holiday, to be grateful for what we have. That we follow this holiday with the Black Friday ritual of unbridled consumption strikes me as calculated to distract us from Thanksgiving priorities.
I get that some people need every deal they can find on staples, much less on discretionary purchases, but does that explain the hordes thronging to the stores to buy Mario Kart and Spiderman Games? Xboxes and Nintendo Switch bundles? We spend, on average, $5 billion on that one day, very little of it for necessities.
The average American is bombarded with 1600 advertising messages in the course of a single day. That’s 1600 times we’re told, “Buy this, and you will be happier/prettier/healthier/smarter…” Or my favorite: “Buy this and you’ll be wealthier…” Which is shouted at authors from many sides.
I see two problems with the message that buying some thing fixes a problem. First, I’m happy right now, I’m pretty enough right now, I’m in possession of enough goodies to assist me with maintaining and improving my health (waves to the tread desk and the comfy walking shoes). The implication that I should be discontent with my circumstances is a) manipulative, and b) usually a lie. Most people would consider themselves to be living the dream to have what I have–a roof over my head, some money in the bank, a job I love, good friends and dear family, as well as reasonable health. Besides peace and justice for all on a well cared for planet, what more SHOULD I want?
But when you’re told 1600 times a day that your life can and should be better? How long can you even hear the evidence of your own contentment, much less trust it? Now consider that you’re a seven-year-old kid, trying to sort out what matters in life, and turn those 1600 missiles of manipulation into nuclear warheads. And maybe you think, “I just ignore all the ads,” but the ads are designed to ensure that even when we don’t realize we’ve seen them, they impact our behavior and our moods.
The second problem I see with the swamp of consumerism is that while we’re busy getting and spending and laying waste our powers, we’re not creating relationships, building communities, or devising public policies that protect our privacy and peace of mind. We’re not doing the things that have been proven to result in true contentment and health, in other words. You can probably think of a better use for $5 billion than hand-held games that will be mostly gathering dust (or made obsolete) in a few months.
So here we are, facing the time of year when we’re most heavily besieged to buy, buy, buy… What one addition to or subtraction from your life would you really like to find under the tree next month? I’d like to find more time with my friends, and you know what? I know exactly where to get it. This week, I’m not doing a giveaway. I’m doing a donation to Heifer International for beehives and trees in the name of my blog buddies.