Friday, May 12, 2006

Money & Happiness & Other Stuff

I know I just blogged, but that was informational and this is a musing. Two very different things, therefore requiring two different postings. I want to talk about money and happiness. I have been thinking about money a little lately, for many reasons, but one of which is that I have been hearing lots of stories about financial problems (watch a little Oprah and you'll know what I'm talking about- her debt "diet" just doesn't seem fair- you mean it's not enough I can't eat what I want- you're taking away my shopping too?) Apparently the average American has 9,000 worth of credit card debt. With the incredibly high interest rates the credit companies charge, we're talking many thousands of dollars extra to pay off that debt. I know that some people are forced into that debt because of circumstances out of their control and I'm sympathetic.

What I worry about is what I think (and of course this thought is not original to me) is the core issue. The "I deserve it" mentality. My friend tells her husband's story of when he was growing up the family would put things on layaway until they could afford them. He saw his mom putting Christmas gifts on layaway in July. You saved up, paid off the item, and then got it. Today it's the opposite. See it, want it, put it on your credit card, then start thinking about how to pay it off. For some people that means they're still paying off the item that is now either broken, unused or lost. My friend points out the significance that stores don't have layaway policies anymore.

I've just finished several of the great dystopian novels (negative utopia or books with a vision of the future that isn't so bright) 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451. Especially those last two seem to really relate to our culture today. Everything is fast paced, based on consumerism, heavily media saturated and happiness is the ultimate goal. In Fahrenheit 451 the main character says "Happiness is important, fun is everything. And yet I kept sitting there saying to myself, I'm not happy." Is all this consumerism making us happy? And I love shopping more than most, so this is directly focused back on myself. Even though I'm pretty financially responsible, I have waaaaayyy more than I need. I mean way more. Who needs 15 sweater sets? Especially someone who lives in Arizona? But if it makes me happy, is it wrong? But then I ask, does it really make me happy?

In Fahrenheit 451 the goal is happiness so people have TVs that cover 3 walls of their living room. They constantly have radios in their ears (who knew Ray Bradbury conceived of the I-pod in the 1950's?) yet suicide is so common that they have created portable stomach pumps that technicians can bring straight to your house and clean you out without the inconvenience of leaving the house to go to the hospital. It seems to me that in the book and in our lives today, we keep choosing the fake over the real- the media, the movies, the music, the TV, the internet, the mall, even sometimes books - in order to avoid the real life stuff.

In Brave New World a man (ironically called the Savage) who hasn't been exposed to this gaudy futuristic world of promiscuous sex , eternal youth, drugs, and instant gratification, when faced with the realities of this world says "I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness; I want sin... I'm claiming the right to be unhappy." I ask myself, am I brave enough to say that?


Sars said...

Excellent post, Kel. I really enjoyed reading/pondering it, but am having trouble forming a coherent response. Suffice it to say that I have been thinking about this some myself. It seems cliche to say this, but I'm always convinced that if I just have the next thing, whatever it is, then life will be peachy. We've been learning about heaven at church, and that just makes it clear that life will never be peachy down here, even if I have it all.

Learner said...

That is a great quote! One of the allures of consumerism is that it does provide that momentary happiness. It feels real and cleverly has the built in means of keeping you happy. Just buy more.

A concern is how this has crept into the church. I’m not sure we can distinguish between when we look at God as simply a means to consumption that follows the norms of our culture or approach him on his terms simply because they are his terms. I also wonder if much of our societal angst is because we have so much abundance. Are we becoming psychologically as well as spiritually damaged because we have so much more than what we need? Is our frustration layers of individual consumptions that still don’t fit our expectations?