There is a shopping mall I like to frequent, referred to fondly as "Mecca." I usually aim to be one of the first shoppers in the parking lot, before the doors open, relishing my selected shade tree as I nibble some fuel for the exacting mission ahead.
When I emerge a few hours later, there are cars as far as the eye can behold. Now is the next stage of the game, stealthily creeping out to my vehicle as numerous sedans furiously circle, seeking a spot. More than once there has been a near fist-fight as frantic shoppers (who refuse to walk) screech over who gets first dibs.
Americans like to shop. Frankly, is there any culture that doesn't like to shop?
Regarding the holiday season, Arthur C. Brooks addressed the commercialization of a seemingly spiritual holiday in "Abundance Without Attachment."
Jews, too, feel the constant tug between gashmius and ruchniyus. For all, it is about balance. But balance is subjective. It relies more on how one views money. As an American who made it big then became an property-less swami put it:
“There is nothing wrong with money, dude. The problem in life is attachment to money.”
Abundance isn't a bad thing; if there was no prosperity, we'd all be starving. But with wealth, there is the danger of "MINE!"
Brooks has a simple yet brilliant means to combat that side-effect:
Amen, sir!Firstly, collect experiences, not things.
However, I was not crazy about his example, second honeymoon as opposed to new couch. "Experiences" don't have to be about expensive travel destinations, and a couch provides the means for memorable experiences. Like cuddling up on a soft yet sturdy couch with a sleeping nephew.
Though it seems counterintuitive, it is physically permanent stuff that evaporates from our minds. It is memories in the ether of our consciousness that last a lifetime, there for us to enjoy again and again.
. . . steer clear of excessive usefulness.
Our daily lives often consist of a dogged pursuit of practicality and usefulness at all costs. This is a sure path toward the attachment we need to avoid. Aristotle makes this point in his Nicomachean Ethics; he shows admiration for learned men because “they knew things that are remarkable, admirable, difficult, and divine, but useless.”
To quote Shlomo HaMelech: "Hevel."
Countless studies show that doing things for their own sake — as opposed to things that are merely a means to achieve something else — makes for mindfulness and joy.
. . . This is the point made famously in the Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, where work is sanctified as inherently valuable, not as a path to a payoff.
I revel in a stupid sense of self-worth after partially cleaning my room.
And finally, get to the center of the wheel.
Life changes, and sometimes we're at the top of the heap, sometimes we're in a pretty crummy bind. Seven years of plenty, seven years of lean. But if one looks at material goods at being on the outer perimeter of the Wheel of Fortune, then one remains whole and at peace in the center. Things may come and go, but that has no bearing on one's self-worth, providing one does define oneself through one's possessions.
I am more than my income, success, or closet. I think.