August 5, 2015 by Dymphna 16 Comments

Shop. It makes you happy.

Anyone else find they’re more drawn to shopping when they’ve lost sight of their meaning and purpose.

People enjoy shopping.

It’s a bit odd when you think about it, but it seems to be true.

And maybe you don’t enjoy the actual act of shopping (and that seems to be particularly true of men) but we still enjoy acquiring stuff.

I find this really interesting. Because the joy seems to come from the ‘acquiring’, not from the item itself.

And so there’s two joys bundled into one. The joy of having something new, and the joy of a new whatever it is.

Double joy. Happy happy joy joy.

And it seems that this drive, this quirk in the human psyche, cops blame for the worst excesses of materialist consumerism.

We put huge amount of resources into products that are designed to fill up our land-fill dumps forever, after a brief stop-overs in our homes for a handful of years.

And we put this down to people’s superficiality. That we enjoy the frothy stuff that gathers at the top of our lives, never savouring the full-bodied flavours of amber meaning and deeper truth.

(That goes out to Dave, who said I couldn’t get a beer metaphor into one of these blogs. You owe me 20 bucks.)

We think people are superficial – getting caught up in flashy and showy things – and this is why we like amassing so much ‘stuff’. I don’t think that’s wrong exactly, but there’s something more interesting afoot.

And that is, I reckon buying stuff gives us sense of meaning and purpose.

It may be a temporary hit, and it may leave us feeling more hollow in the long run, but for a brief moment in time, we feel fulfilled. Our life has a sweet sense of meaning and purpose.

And I think we end up in that strange situation because in the modern world, it’s incredibly hard to know how you’re going.

We want to know that we’re doing well. We want to feel like a success. We want to feel like we’re valued and that we’re making a contribution to society. We want the respect and appreciation of our community.

These are all natural things.

But where are the yard-sticks? How do we know if we’re succeeding? How do we know if we’re valued?

We don’t. We can’t. We can get fleeting reflections from the people around us, but they’re quickly swallowed up in the swamp of our own self-doubts and the indifference of strangers.

And so of course that creates a market for status symbols. This car/watch/beer/handbag says a lot about who I am. I bought it for the message it conveys, not for the use I get out of it.

But it also creates a market for gadgets and trinkets. It creates a market for the stocking stuffers of life.

And I’ve felt myself fall into it. And it comes at times in my life when I’m feeling stressed – when I’m over-worked and I’m not taking enough time out for myself.

Only for me, it’s not expressed through shoes and handbags and what nots. I go out and buy ride-on mowers. Flash hedge trimmers. A wireless router for the sound system.

But it’s the same response. And for a moment there, I feel gratified and fulfilled. There’s a moment of release.

And I think it happens because there’s often no immediate feedback on the energy we’re putting out into the world.

Back in the old days, you hunted hard all day, and then you had a mammoth to show for it. Job done. Sit back and relax

But I’ve been through spells where it’s been nose-to-the-grindstone for months at a time. And I’m making progress, but the prize is still a long way off. And that’s when you’re working for yourself. It’s a lot worse when you’re working for somebody else.

Where is all this hard work getting us?

And so trinkets and gadgets give us an answer. I busted balls this week, but at least now I can afford to go out and buy a GPS fitness tracker.

For a brief moment, it justifies all of our hard work. It’s all worth it.

And in that moment, we feel powerful. I can just take this item if I let them have some of my money. And that’s often a counter-point to the disempowerment we feel in our day-to-day lives.

But like a junky sugar hit, it doesn’t last long. Deep down we know that it’s silly to waste our life working to buy more ‘stuff’. And when we show up on Monday, we’re still going to let that stupid cheese-weasle boss us around.

If anything, it makes us feel worse.

And so it doesn’t surprise me that the rise of mindless materialism has come at the same time as our lives have become more and more busy, and our working lives have become more and more disempowered.

We’re hungry for meaning. We need to know we’re doing ok. ‘Stuff’ comforts us in the moment…

… only to drop us flat in the long run.

And to me, that’s why you need to know your “why”. The first step in the journey is to get really clear in your motivations – to understand exactly why you’re doing this and who you’re doing it for.

If you can do that, you’ll feel strong in your path, and won’t be tempted by the sugary seduction of ‘stuff’.

Anyone else have that experience?