Monday, January 12, 2009

Stuff and Nonsense

This is my long promised "deep thoughts" post. I hope it's coherent. It should be -- it' s been hanging around inside my head long enough. It's just that for me it's a complicated subject and I've been grappling with the best way to get across to you all the conflict I feel.

Have you ever been thinking about something and then everywhere you turn you're confronted with articles or stories about the very thing you're thinking about? That happened to me right before Christmas.

I had been thinking about "stuff" and its hold over our lives for a while. All the news about the economy and people losing their jobs and their homes had me thinking a lot about the choices that we as a country, in general, have made. We seem to be driven by a desire for "stuff" and I think that desire has led us to hell in the proverbial handbasket.

See, me and "stuff" go way back. I've always wanted "stuff." My mom more than provided for the things that I needed and in most cases she also gave me what I wanted, but there are a few instances when she just could not justify the expense of whatever it was I was craving at the moment. As a parent, I get that. Boy, do I get that. However, as a teenager, all I felt was WANT.

And sometimes I have let my want for "stuff" make me miserable. Why does so-and-so have such-and-such and I don't? Why do they have a new house, a new car, an iPod, whatever? I can remember once, in college, sobbing in the car as listened to Colin Ray's song "Someone Else's Star,"

I guess I must be wishing on
Someone else’s star
It seems like someone else keeps getting
What I’m wishing for
Why can’t I be as lucky
As those other people are
I guess I must be wishing
On someone else’s star

Gah. I can remember as clear as day how much it hurt watching my dreams come true for other people. It was when I was reading The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs right before Christmas that I was struck with a realization. (This is an awesome book, by the way, no matter your religious views -- or even lack thereof. Jacobs attempts to follow all the laws, no matter how obscure or odd, for an entire year. It's hilarious, thought-provoking, and touching. I highly recommend it.)

In one of the first chapters, Jacobs addresses the issue of coveting, as in Thou Shalt Not Covet, number 10 of the Ten Commandments. The actual commandment reads "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not cove your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's." He goes on to talk about different interpretations of what "to covet" might mean in modern society, but I realized that's my problem. For most of my life, I've wanted what other people had. To the extent that it has made me unhappy -- very unhappy in some cases. Jacobs says that some rabbis say that coveting means you are so desirous of obtaining material goods that you have veered from the path of being thankful for what God provides.

Even if you don't believe in God, I think that an obsessive desire for what you DON'T have can blind you to all the good things that you DO have. Don't get me wrong -- I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting stuff, you just can go overboard with it.

Anyway, all of these thoughts, combined with the Christmas advertising onslaught, the kids' incessant cry of "I want, I want" and a thought provoking essay by Anna Quindlen, all of these things combined to make me do some serious thinking....which I'll share with you tomorrow. This whole entry is convoluted and long enough for today.


AndreAnna said...

I'm looking forward to reading more!

Anglophile Football Fanatic said...

I think virtually everybody wants "stuff," because we live in a capitalist society. I think all we can hope for is that we are content with what we have.

Laurel said...

Ooh, boy! Do I love this post!!! I think it is so right on. And in our society today, where we have so much, where we are surrounded by so much, it is extremely hard to keep our priorities straight, to figure out what really matters, to realize that stuff, ultimately, can't make you happy.

I love the notion of coveting robbing us of gratitude. That gives me something to chew on for awhile. I have long been a believer in gratitude as a key to happiness, but I haven't connected specifically, before now, of how coveting works on opposition to that. Thank you!

And I can't wait to see what else comes pouring out of that brilliant head of yours!

calicobebop said...

I've often been consumed with the "wanting" too. I believe we're all afflicted with that ailment to one degree or another.

I can't wait to hear what you have to say!

Leslie said...

I think it's a natural human characteristic to want, but I definitely agree with you that it can rob us of real gratitude and happiness. I have realized that I "want" most when I feel a lack in other areas of my life--(ironically) lack of financial security, lack of happiness in my job or homelife, etc. Now when I think I just have to have something, I try to look at where that desire is coming from. It helps!

Katie in MA said...

Bravo! Your post is spot-on. I've been struggling with these exact thoughts after losing more than half our my take-home. I knew the question was "Do I want to be miserable or poor?" and I knew what the answer was, but still, sometimes you can shake a case of the I-wants. I can't wait to hear what else you have to say and I'm glad you started this dialogue! (Fits nicely, btw, after your "I Can't Believe This!" post. Fits right in!)

Laura said...

wait...have you been reading my diary?
I am guilty. And every Sunday at church (true story) I pray that I be more thankful for what I DO have. And that what I DO have IS enough. Because in my heart, like you, I believe that I am blessed. And that God has put me exactly where I need to be. And that I do have just the right amount of stuff. For now. This very moment.

And then I go to a friends HUGE house...or see a friends NEW CLOTHES...or hear about someones GREAT VACATION TO HAWAII...and so on, and so on...

think I'll continue those prayers....for the both of us!

Fannie said...

It's easy to blame todays "society" or "media”, but the ten commandments were written a long time ago. It would seem "coveting" is part of our on-going struggle as human beings. said...

I totally get what you're saying! I feel like I have way too much "stuff" right now, and wish I could just trade it all in for enough money to pay all the bills!
This is a very insightful, thought provoking post! Thank you!

Colleen said...

Is it coveting when you want more time with your family and other loved ones? Because I want that so bad it hurts.

And I fall into that guilty rut of wanting to get them things to help make up for the time I'm not with them. It's a weird and convoluted thought-process. At least for me.