It’s Not About the Stuff

The world spends a lot of time and effort trying to convince us it’s about the stuff. Entire industries — indeed, entire economies — are based on this premise. In a myriad of subtle and not-so-subtle ways, we’re told we should acquire and accumulate. And in that acquisition and accumulation we will find satisfaction, meaning and happiness. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course, this shouldn’t be news to anyone. Philosophers, religious teachers and others throughout the ages have made the same point. Yet, largely, we have chosen to ignore them. Instead, we mold our wisdom-leaders to fit our desires. So be it. Perhaps all these voices were wrong. Perhaps stuff does matter — a lot.

People can decide for themselves, of course. They can decide how many cars they need, how big a house they require, how many storage units to rent, how large of closets they need, etc.  People can decide for themselves whether the stuff makes them happy.

Personally, I’m highly skeptical. In my 60 plus years, I haven’t seen the causative connection.

It seems to me the driving force behind all of this acquisition and accumulation isn’t need. Rather, it’s profit.

Our spending is someone else’s revenue. It’s what makes the economy go ’round. And because there is revenue and profit to be had, there are ample reasons to grease the skids. Hence, we are bombarded with messages telling us that we’ll be less than complete unless we buy this or that. It’s propaganda. But propaganda can be highly effective.

If we allow others to dictate our choices, we will end up chasing the rabbit. Forever. It will never allow itself to be caught. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Vera.

You can choose what to value in your life. You can choose what’s worth having. You can choose how to spend your time and money. You do not have to accept the judgments of others.

A now-defunct religious group called the Shakers had a song that goes like this: “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free.” The older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve had, the more I’ve come to realize the merit of simplicity — the more I’ve come to value freedom.

So if the secret of life can’t be found in acquisition and accumulation, where does it reside? You’ll discover that for yourself, Vera. Perhaps the answer is different for different people.

Personally, I think it can be found in giving and in relationships. By giving, I don’t mean philanthropy or buying gifts to enable others to accumulate things they don’t need. And I don’t mean giving with the expectation of getting something in return — the kind of giving that permeates our business and political worlds. Rather, I mean giving of one’s talents and energy to help make life better for someone else and the world a better place. I mean the selfless, compassionate, passionate kind.

And then there are relationships. If I had it to do over, I’d spend more time nurturing my relationships. They matter. A lot. Far more than things.

Your grandmother and I are leaving this morning after having spent several days with you and your parents. You won’t remember our visit: you’re too young. But I’ll leave you with this parting thought, which perhaps you’ll read and consider one day:

Be your own person. Don’t blindly accept conventional wisdom and don’t allow your decisions to be guided by those messages that are incessantly hurled your way by those who stand to gain financially from your decisions. Those people aren’t interested in you. They only care about your money.

As you ponder how to live your life, as you try to discern between what is true and false, between what is life-giving and life-draining, consider the possibility that it is within the act of love and giving that life and joy reside — consider the possibility that stuff is a very poor substitute.


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