What most these days call the “Christmas Season” is almost upon us.  It is actually the Advent Season, the season in which Christians prepare for the birth of Christ, and it begins 2 Dec.  Of course, for most it begins the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday.  It is the season in which all men should celebrate and share God given time, talent and treasure.  Even if you don’t believe in the Western philosophy of God, at least a time when we should all look to each other and ask, what can we do to make our lives, the lives of others and this world better?  However, this is not a thought for this time of year only.  I would contend that each and every day of our lives could be devoted, if only in some small measure amidst the difficulties of life lived, to such an end.  Nonetheless, since few days are (or at least few by most), such thoughts and actions should dominate this time of year.

Yet this time of year seems more and more devoted to that ultimate goal.  The goal to die with the most toys…  We also need the most expensive toys.  We need what everyone else has.  We need it whether we need it or not (confusing isn’t it?).  It is almost impossible for many these days to differentiate between a need and a want.  Commercialism wins.  Not Capitalism mind you. Commercialism.  The art of convincing us that “wants” are “needs”.  Sometimes, often times, convincing us that things we didn’t even know we wanted, we need.  The art of devotion to the ultimate goal.  How depressing.  How miserable.  How distressing.

It is interesting that most people’s unhappiness comes from the desire for things they want but don’t have.  Notice I didn’t see “need” but don’t have.  I have traveled the world and met many that have far less than those in America we consider in poverty.  Interestingly enough, they are happy.  Maybe ignorance IS bliss.  If it means lack of knowledge of what we are persuaded we need, I am convinced.  Few Americans know what true poverty is.  I hear or read about many that are “so impoverished” due to lack of something the rest of the world gets along just fine without.  Mind you, many in America ARE hurting.  Have no doubt.  Not nearly though the number of which we are convinced.  And certainly not for the reasons we are oft times given.

I have many students that live below the federally established “poverty line”.  Two come to mind and have two very different perspectives on their situation (there are many others in both categories).  They are of pretty much the same financial status.  One is miserable.  Everyday he’s miserable.  His friends have this and his friends have that.  It affects his happiness.   It affects his attitude.  His attitude toward his school work (yes, he grades are below average in all classes).  His attitude toward extracurricular activity.  His attitude toward life.  His is owed!  And he is not getting his due!  The other, as you might imagine, is actually quite happy.  I am utterly amazed by his outlook on life.  He takes advantage of every opportunity and couldn’t care less if he lacks the toys or clothes or houses or what-have-you of so many of his friends.  He is getting good grades and participates in every extracurricular activity he can fit in his schedule.  If you believe I am writing fiction here you’d be wrong.  One is a senior, the other a sophomore.  One is happy, the other – not so much.  Both attitudes come from the same “concern”.  One is making the most of what little he is given.  The other is lamenting the fact that he doesn’t have more.  One will be going far in life and, as most parents wish for their children, will surpass his family status and make a better life for his kids (I’m making a presumption here – he doesn’t actually have kids yet).  I have little doubt we, as taxpaying Americans, will be taking care of the other.  One is happy with having his needs, and a very few of his wants, fulfilled.  The other is miserable because he doesn’t have what society (in the form of mass media and advertisers) tells him he should.

I am writing on “Black Friday”.  What a bizarre day of greed, insatiability, and self-indulgence.  It is bad enough that people wait in line for days for things neither they nor the others for who they may be buying truly even need.  But the stories of pushing and shoving, fights, arguments, etc that take place show the true nature of many indulging in such activity.  Stories abound but some of the most grievous include “a Massachusetts man [that] left his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son in a car while he went shopping for Black Friday bargains, then went home with his new 51-inch flat screen television and left the toddler behind” (apparently the TV wouldn’t fit in the car so he called a friend for a lift home and forgot about the child) and “a man who tried skipping line outside a Sears store in Texas punched a fellow shopper and that man responded by pulling a gun”.  Doors busted down by shoppers who “couldn’t” wait for the store to open, a customer actually run over in a store parking lot, shots fired, “gang” fights, actual battles over merchandise.  These are all true stories of this year’s Black Friday.  This is a typical year.  Seriously people.  We see this every year.  We are appalled every year.  We continue every year.  Also interesting is that it supposedly revolves around the Christmas holiday.  Who is this Christ?  Why does He matter?  What is His message?  Why are we celebrating His birth?  Who has time to consider such silliness?  “Get the best deal on Christmas gifts for the whole family!” is the cry of the retailer.  “Save, Save, Save” on SO MANY things nobody actually needs.  This is neither the Capitalism nor the values upon which our country was founded.  It is the Commercialism contributing to its fall.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have no problem with people living a comfortable life within their means.  The concern is threefold.  The extent to which they will go to get what they think will make them happy, the debt they will incur for the same reason and those that feel they need to emulate them (not their fault of course, but a concern in the big picture). Every day we are told that material things will not make you happy.  For the most part this is true.  We obviously need SOME material things.  The Physiological Level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs dictates that.  We truly need food, water, shelter, etc.  However, we don’t need lobster and filet mignon, we don’t need Perrier, and we don’t need a McMansion in a gated community.  If you are truly able to afford such things (this means without getting into debt you are unable to repay as a practical portion of your income) I am all for living a good life.  I am a big proponent of the ultra-rich.  Many people are employed by those that build, maintain, and supply yachts (as a single example).  Many are employed in numerous industries that provide products and services for those able to afford great luxury.  Do not condemn those that have the means and spend well above most of our capabilities.  They are providing jobs and therefore income to many of us.  However, if you are NOT one of them, it is within you to be happy in whatever state of life you live.  Strive for more if you wish.  It is the drive of man to want to be and have better.  Just strive to be BETTER and to make your community, country and the world better.  Not for more “stuff” for the sake of more “stuff”.

Live and let live.  This doesn’t mean don’t get involved or allow others in society to just do what they please.  I do not advocate anarchy.  What it means is leave others to their own material goods.  Consider only that which is necessary to YOUR happiness.  And “what makes YOU happy” should be actually well thought-out.  No, being “convinced” by that cool advertisement on TV is not a considered choice.  Is that new video game bringing happiness?  Is that new pair of shoes bringing happiness?  Just because someone else has it doesn’t mean it belongs in your life.  Live your life.  Live your goals.  Notice I didn’t say “dreams”.  Dreams are nice ideas.  Goals are dreams to which you apply action.  Many have dreams.  Few turn them into goals.  Consider what would actually make you happy.  Turn that thought into a goal.  Live your goals.  Let others live through commercialism if they must.

As well, consider on occasion that using some of what you have to help those that ARE truly in need might actually provide you with more fulfillment than acquiring more “stuff”.  Having lived through some level of this in my young adult years I can assure you that it is not worth it.  The sleepless nights, paycheck-to-paycheck living due to acquisition of unnecessary things, constant worry about how to pay for not only the true necessities but those unnecessary things acquired is more headache than it is worth.  Ensuring “needs” are reasonable and limiting consumption of “wants” will allow for time and treasure to be devoted to something besides yourself.  Maybe a favorite charity looking for a cure for a disease or medical condition about which you are concerned.  Or helping those in areas of our country or abroad that truly need more to eat or fresh water to drink.  Even if you have no extra money, your time is also of great value.  Many of my students have little of their own.  However, visiting the elderly in retirement homes or helping younger student at elementary schools doesn’t cost them a thing yet sure seems to bring far more happiness and fulfillment to them than I see in the kid that just received the newest video game.

I could go on and on about this topic.  So much greed – so little time.  So many examples of those that are sad they don’t have more and others so happy because they understand what they don’t need.  Do you need most “stuff”?  My departing counsel – consider what is truly important in your life.  Consider what is driving your attitude.  Are they balanced?  Are you happy?

>>> The day is at a close, the night is drawing in and my cigar awaits – ’til next time…