Bio-Social Nature|December 1, 2010 5:19 pm

Break the Consumer Habit

A conversation with a friend led to the question, “What pisses you off the most about the world?” Many things deserve that title, but in the spirit of the holiday season, I ranked consumerism as the thing that drives me crazy.

It’s not only the fact that after every Christmas, applications for Payday loans, bankruptcies and other financial instruments skyrocket. Or that it wastes tremendous amount of resources on a limited planet which could be used for other wiser purposes. And I could live with, if only for a moment, the twisted logic of economists who measure an increase in GDP every time a disaster happens, natural or man-made.

No, what drives me crazy is how thoroughly the spirit of commercial Christmas trashes the human spirit. Here is a sampling of Christmas commercials I’ve heard:

“Christmas is about feeling rich and luxurious.” – some home decor company
“If you love your wife, buy her a gift this season.” – paraphrasing from a jewelery skit
“Get that ‘oh my gosh’ reaction.” – from something on TV

It’s the kind of thing that makes you realize how thoroughly programmed we are by our culture. So much so that even if we know that Christmas isn’t about the gifts, we act as if it is about the gifts. Our kids expect it. Our peers expect it. Our society expects it. Is there no escape from it?

I’m not against buying things. I am all for bringing into our lives items that enrich our lives or help us to more fully realize ourselves. I draw the line when gift-giving becomes a replacement for caring or the representation of our character.

I’m determined to kick the habit. But how? I’m reminded of a quote:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

And if we were to ask, where do our thoughts come from? If you think that your thoughts are your own, you’d be mistaken most of the time. Why do we buy for status? Why do we have an impulsive need to acquire things? Why do we associate happiness with money? The reality is that much of what we think comes from our natural inclinations as well as our socialization. We never question whether those thoughts supplied to us are helpful or not.

So to break free from a consumer habit, we have to feed our thoughts differently. We have to be mindful of the signals sent to us by advertisement, by our peers, by movies and books. It’s a revolutionary act to resist our socialization. We do know better and if we don’t play to our lowest common denominator, maybe others won’t either.

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6 Comments

  • You may have heard of the book “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays”.
    Lovely analysis of all the “deadweight loss” in the economy each Christmas because we buy gifts for people because we feel we have to and end up wasting money because we get crap instead of what people REALLY want. We could probably cure AIDS or world hunger with the money wasted.

  • I like that book unsurprisingly. That I suppose is the hope of humankind eh? Imagine what we could accomplish if we turn our attentions to those other complex problems. but then we tend to like the shiny things and things that go bang!

  • It just strikes me how closely similar our thoughts are on this issue. I, too, find consumerism is one thing that pisses me the most. With the limited resources on this planet and the pollution that we have created, we still continue to consume as if there’s no tomorrow. Literally, there’s really no tomorrow for our future generations if we continue this way.
    As for Christmas gift this year, I suggested to my family that we donate the gift money to Charities and they have agreed. I feel great about it.
    You know the quote that you used on thoughts, I saw it when I was waiting in one of the medical laboratories. It really strikes me and I copy it down. I really feel that it’s our thoughts that govern our destiny.
    Wishing you a fulfilling and a happy New Year!

    I saw the quote that you use about thoughts….when I was waiting in one of the medical laboratories. I found it so appropriate that I copy it down.

  • There is no real way to escape our socialization other than through education. The more we know as consumers the better choices we make. It is a scary thought that most of the products we make are “plastic”. Most of the items we buy this year for xmas will be thrown away before the next. The worst thing is that it is purchased at an inflated price and most of the money spent on marketing those products such as the stupid commercials to talk about. Why can’t people realize that as this type of mass production and consumerism will not build or leave anything behind for generations to come. Consumerism would be great if the government to enforce some type of quality standards of the products produced and sold. A free market where 99% of the population lack ethics is a scary thing. We can’t rely on the companies we buy our products from to do what is right for our country and generations to come.

  • So this is so timely. As a Muslim, who doesn’t really “participate” in Christmas, I find myself trying to explain away certain things. Like when asked, ” So have you finished your Christmas shopping”, I dodge the question like ” Sure”. In the past, I would say “Well, we actually don’t celebrate Christmas” or “Christmas means spending time with family”. People look at you like you are a zoo animal when you say that. Like “Oh poor you…no presents”. How do we change this?

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