At the age of 10, I remember the first time I thought I understood what Christmas was all about. Presents. It was all about presents. When I figured that out, I began to pay attention to what my friends at school were getting. A Game Boy.
That’s what they were all getting. And that’s what I asked for. It was the most amazing thing ever. Until it wasn’t. The same cycle happened with Atari 2600 (remember those, my fellow gamers?), the Super Nintendo, and eventually the Sony Playstation. And this is just games consoles we’re talking about. Trainers were another culprit for me, from Reebok classics to Nike Air Max to Air Force Ones (any trainer geeks out there?). For years now I have not had to ask permission or needed to drop subtle hints (like circling the item I wanted in big black felt tip in the Argos catalogue and conveniently leaving it in the middle of the floor) for either parent to pick up when I want something. I now have the means to get it myself.
And that’s consumerism. Which unknowingly entered my life at the ripe old age of 10! It’s the act of desiring and chasing that new toy, that new gadget, that new dress, that new game, that new watch, those new shoes, that new car, or even that house. The difference is that now I have the power to obtain these things myself. I make the decisions myself about what to buy. As long as my wife agrees with me! So whereas before my parents were effectively the filter by which I got some things I wanted but didn’t get everything I wanted, I’m now in a position to get pretty much whatever I want, finances allowing of course. And even then, there are ways and means to borrow what I need to get the stuff I want even if it doesn’t really make financial sense to do so. What a privilege! What freedom! But how easily taken for granted! Let me explain.
I have to come to the realisation that I have a bit of an addictive personality when it comes to food. I’ll suddenly have a strong craving for something, and then instead of treating myself to it just once to satisfy that craving, I’ll try to have it every day! I’ve done this with snacks like pickled onion Monster Munch crisps, chocolate such as Kinder bars and Ferrero Rochers, and fast food like KFC and a meat ballmarinar a Subway! So because I overindulge, it’s not long before I completely lose all desire in having any more and the mere mention of it puts a look of disgust on my face. Do you know what this is called?
Instant gratification. Where we can get what we want. Now. Aside from the wider issues of falling into the trap of excessive consumerism, we also rob ourselves of the sense of thankfulness and gratitude over getting something that we have longed for, mainly because we don’t wait long enough between the desire and the fulfillment of that desire. When you give yourself the opportunity to wait and not have it straight away, it is so much more satisfying when you do get it. It helps you be more thankful for it. It also teaches you to be a more dependable person, well-adjusted psychologically and to see things from a bigger perspective. There was a famous study called The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment which can be looked up online, that provides a more thorough explanation.
There’s one more point. There is an alternative to delayed gratification, and that’s not having it at all. The question to ask here is one of our hearts and where we find security and comfort. Fundamentally the examples listed above are to do with providing a feeling of happiness and joy. Eating a certain food satisfies the stomach, but are we actually trying to fill a void not in the stomach but in our hearts? Likewise with the latest gadgets or clothes or car or even house? I’m not so interested in what you’re pursuing, but why you’re pursuing it. There may well be a deeper issue underneath the chasing after, desiring and obtaining of stuff, whether it’s food, or gadgets, clothes or jewellery. Can we accommodate such things in our lives so that they’re a blessing and not an idol? For me, I try to live a life of contentment by thanking the One that provided it all in the first place. From there I can live in abundance. Contentment with what we already have leads to an abundance of the heart, but chasing abundance to find contentment is an endless, and ultimately fruitless, pursuit.