Sunday, December 20, 2009

Contentment

Americans are both blessed and cursed.

It has not always been so throughout our history, of course, but today - and for a very long time now - we have been steeped in a culture that constantly urges us to excel, to rise to the top, to be a "winner", whatever that really means.

It's not just Americans, of course. We have slowly dragged much of the rest of the Western World with us into the endless rat race of one-upmanship and conspicuous consumerism.

If you are a "normal" American, you are in debt. Sometimes scarily so. Gone are the days of the proud self-sufficiency that used to be the hallmark of Traditional America. It would have been unthinkable to Americans only 40 years ago to be heavily mortgaged to the Communist Red Chinese (as we used to call them) and to not even be able to make plastic parts ourselves, much less steel. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but not so much: as I placed the plastic Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus figures on my front lawn this year, I couldn't help but notice the ubiquitous "Made in China" Americans are now so familiar with. I wonder what the common Chinese workers must think we are like in their minds as they make this stuff?

If it is true that contentment comes from living within yourself and your means, then we are surely the most discontented people on earth. We are especially reminded at this time of year of our rush to consume. We fight to buy things we don't need and, in truth, don't want. All around us we are constantly barraged with advertising. Buy now, pay later. Pay forever.

But we also are about to enter the new year, and with it another opportunity for personal renewal - a chance to mend our ways. It's always a good time to resolve to get one's financial house in order and begin making a plan to return to self-sufficiency.

Living within one's means and actual needs, and resisting the constant urge to consume, is not only a step towards a more sane life, it is an actual triumph in today's world. If you would know contentment, you will first learn to say no to yourself. Coming to practice deferred gratification is perhaps the best gift we can give ourselves in the new year.

This new year, resolve to "simplify". You would be in good company. Take care.

12 comments:

Lidian said...

I hate being in debt and overspending; so I don't. Or, I should say, we don't (since I live with my family). If that's anachronistic, it's fine with me. It's one way of being a rebel, right? :)

Stephanie B said...

It's good advice.

Redbeard76 said...

Haha... simplify, like Thoreau, right?

Just kidding. you know I couldn't resist.

At the beginning of this year, feedthepig.org was doing some serious ad campaigning. Haven't heard much from this lately, and of course that's not the manta big business wants to hear. If you haven't heard of it already, it's worth checking out, good sound advice for living simply, frugally, and fiscally conservative.

Redbeard76 said...

*mantra, not manta.

Janet said...

We tried very hard to scale back on the Christmas present purchasing this year (both to save our budget and to keep down the amount of stuff coming into our house). The extended family wouldn't hear of it. So we scaled back on the price per gift and everyone is getting locally produced baked goods, jams, and other consumables. Paid for with cash.

Relax Max said...

Yes, Lidian, you're a rebel. Actually, in today's world, you are. :) "Never go to the supermarket hungry and without a firm list." But that is my own downfall, so I can't preach. I hope you and your family have a nice holiday season.
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Stephnie B - What is? Oh, the post. Thank you. :)
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Yeah, Thoreau. Only I wasn't remotely thinking about Thoreau when I said it. I was thinking of Ghandi. But the Buddha (another guy with a needless H in his name) said it before either of the others. At least Ghandi practiced what he preached and didn't take cookies from his mother on weekends. :) :) :)

Thank you for the financial link. Good ideas.

"Santa" not manta.
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Janet, I was thinking your family is the closest I've seen of living that ideal. Too many plastic toys for the queen, though, but you are close. :) Closer than me, anyway.

Janet said...

Thank you, Max, but yes - we do have way too much plastic. But right this minute the kids are downstairs making up their own Christmas carols. And they eagerly put their own money in the red Salvation Army kettle when we see one.

Canucklehead said...

I can't comment on the post - as of course I didn't read it. Regardless, HAPPY HOLIDAYS! All the best in 2010.

CHEERS!

A. said...

Wishing you every happiness this Christmas, and all you wish, in your contented state, for the New Year.

Lidian said...

Hope you have a wonderful holiday, too!

Relax Max said...

Happy New Year, Canucklehed, my friend. I say this before you start to drink. Only 2 days before New Year's, so perhaps I am already too late to catch you sober. But Happy New Year to the 4 of you. And many more.

soubriquet said...

Ah, Mr Max, we british did the same thing. We trained the people in our colonies to make the things we'd previously exported. Then we gave up the empire, and find ourselves importing cast iron drain-covers from China, whilst our open border policy immigrants are stealing the old drain covers out of our city strees, smashing them up and selling them for scrap metal... to be exported to China and made into drain-covers.
It's a wonderful cycle to behold.
As little as twenty years ago, this city was an industrial powerhouse, with a history of ironworking going back at least a thousand years.
I could have pointed you to at least three foundries in 1989 that would have been able to make a draincover, I can recall my dad, wanting a ventilation grille to replace an ornate broken one on our victorian house, driving to Sloan and Davidson's iron foundry, at Stanningley, handing it over, and returning in a few hours to pick up a freshly cast one.

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