A ticket to happiness?
How to face consumerism in family life
By Catherine Barilleaux
Recently, I read an article about a U.S. family who moved to Ecuador after they became fed up with how consumerism had overtaken their life. This family was searching for something more.
They found it in their new home where, for them, existence was simpler, more peaceful. Life was no longer about new toys and the happiness you could buy with money, but instead meaningful experiences, family and gratitude.
The article really hit home for me, not because I had any plans to pack up my family and move abroad any time soon, but because I too had been asking myself how my family could live a more simple and grateful existence when consumerism was so rampant around me.
After all, the temptation to buy is almost everywhere. We are constantly bombarded by messages that we need more, that our collections of material objects and experiences are inadequate, and this is what is holding us back from the good life. Never mind that our homes are packed to the brim with things that we barely use!
We all head to the register in a panic with our next ticket to happiness! But oddly it doesn’t make us feel more satisfied. In actuality, the buy, buy, buy culture makes us stressed, anxious, discontent. Taking a step back and seeing how negatively consumerism affected me and those around me, it made me motivated to make some positive changes in our family life. Here’s what we did:
1. I stopped buying stuff. Okay, I didn’t stop buying completely. I have just been far more discerning in my purchases, and I try to follow the adage, “When in doubt, do without.” I’ve noticed this has made me far more aware of all I have and allowed me to be more grateful. Generally, if there is a treat one of us in our house really would like, we save that as an idea for a birthday or Christmas present. As a side note: we are trying to keep birthday and Christmas gifts to one medium-sized gift per person, focusing on making these occasions more about the special event being celebrated and less about material goods.
2. I often donate clothing and toys that are not used. These items take up space, make a mess of the house, and make us attached to things we don’t even use. When shopping, and if it’s possible, I try to buy new (or used!) clothes and toys that will hold up and be well loved.
3. I avoid advertising (and scenarios where I most encounter temptations to think I need things I actually don’t). I unfollowed certain designers and fashion bloggers, for example, that I think less helped me with developing my personal style and more suggested that it’s time to run to that particular store. This has added peace to my life too.
4. I enrich our life with quality experiences, usually ones that are free. For example, instead of paying for lots of expensive activities, I bring my kids on nature walks, to the park, library, and free museum days. I read good books with my boys, ages 4 and 7. Right now we are really enjoying A Wrinkle in Time. These moments bind us together as a family, and I see how happy my boys are knowing what it is to love and be loved.
5. I surround myself and my family with friends who are also trying to live these values. It brings me joy to see my children play with other children who have genuine wonder about the world and don’t need a lot of toys or entertainment to have a great time. Having good friends allows me to have honest conversations about my struggles too. In fact, this article is a product of a conversation on consumerism that I had with some of my Focolare friends.
6. We end our day as a family in prayer, specifically prayers of gratitude to God for all we have been given. Our prayers are simple, but they are heartfelt. We are learning to talk to God and recognizing how very much our creator gives us, not because we deserve it, but because he is love.
7. I take time to myself, meditating on the beatitudes – Jesus’ recipe for happiness. I am a daughter of God, and my God wants me to be happy. By being merciful, by being a person of peace, by seeking God’s will and purpose in my daily life, I find real joy, purpose, and gratitude … and it’s worth way more than anything any ad ever promised me.
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