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Happiness in an Age of Commercialism

Updated on April 5, 2010

These days, everyone seems to want something. Women want the latest fashions; men want the newest gadgets; children are desperate for the toys and computer games they are exposed to through advertising. Driving through the city on a Saturday or Sunday, the queues for the carparks would seem to suggest that shopping is at the forefront of many people's minds. Of course, people have always liked to buy things. However, in these modern times of commericalism and indulgence, have we all lost sight of what life is really about?

I hark back to the days of my childhood, when fashions lasted for longer and toys were a treat. Our house was not pristine in every corner. It was lived in and comfortable. We had a television, but it only had three channels - not the several hundred many people have today. Every day, we looked forward to the children's programmes, for there was only a small window of opportunity in which to watch them. (We didn't even have a video recorder until I was twelve.) Somehow, looking forward to the programmes made them special. Children's television was not thrown in our faces from dawn to dusk, like it is today. You watched your programme, it finished, you went off and found something else to do - unless, of course, you wanted to watch the News.

As I look back thirty years or so, I can recall many occasions that make me feel warm and happy. I remember playing I-Spy and singing songs with my mum and my sister. I remember the board games we enjoyed on Saturday evenings - Monopoly; Cluedo; Game of Life - it bonded us as a family and we always laughed and had fun. I remember making 'dens' behind the sofa; roaming about outside while my mum did the gardening, trying (and failing) to make mud bricks and searching for snails in the rockery. Of course we had toys, and compared to earlier generations, quite a lot of them. But nothing like our children have today. The difference was, we knew how to play with them over and over again. We invented new games and uses for them. I often feel disappointed when my nine-year-old son is told to come off the computer, then mooches round the house because he can't think of anything else to do. When we were young, we were creative and innovative. We could think up games with virtually nothing at all.

I remember games like Murder in the Dark; obstacle courses wearing blindfolds, a role play game in which one of us - the 'detective' - had to work out 'who dunnit' by interviewing the 'suspects'; cops and robbers (yes, we were allowed to stray further than the back door); marbles; making models out of cardboard boxes; making 'telephones' from plastic pot noodle pots; making bows and arrows from sticks - the list is endless. Sometimes we were bored, but we always came up with something to do. Our minds were active and busy, not numbed and controlled by a screen.

Thinking about my life, it seems most of my happiest memories have little monetary value at all. The relationships we build with our family and friends is, in the end, what matters the most. The novelty of a new pair of shoes or the latest espresso machine will quickly wear off, only to be replaced with the next indulgent desire. But the memories of your child's joyful face as you tickle his tummy; the picture he has drawn just for you; the times he tells you he loves you and wraps his fat,little hands around your neck - these memories will stay with you forever. Afternoons spent chatting over coffee with friends; that time you started laughing and just couldn't stop; the sun on your face as you cycle down a country lane; lying with your partner, watching the stars - it's moments like these that really make our lives. I have had some wonderful holidays - to Bali, to Marrakech, to Croatia. One year, however, we drove forty minutes down the road to a campsite with a borrowed tent and had such a good time that my son is desperate to go again.

Life is like a collection of little snapshots. If we live our lives in the present moment, instead of constantly hankering after our next desire, we can build a whole book of happy memories to look back on in the future. There is beauty in a lot of things, and if we train ourselves to see this, instead of always thinking there is something out there to make our lives better, than we can set ourselves on the path to true contentment. And it doesn't really matter what we are wearing.


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    • Polly C profile image

      Polly C 7 years ago from UK

      Tim - yes, they are certainly times long gone, which is a great shame I feel. There is nothing I hate more than seeing my son completely taken in by all the latest 'must-haves' - sometimes it seems he can't think about anything else, it's almost as though life depends upon it! Anyway, thank you for stopping by and commenting, much appreciated.

    • Polly C profile image

      Polly C 7 years ago from UK

      Maggs - thanks for commenting and for voting up. Well, I'm 37 right now, I was born at the beginning of '73. It's certainly true that childhoods have changed a lot, but one thing I found very refreshing recently was when we set off camping for a few days, to a campsite only a hour or so from home. There my son did lots of outdoorsy things that mostly didn't require any money at all, then in the evening we played card games and board games by the light of the lantern - he really loved it and was very sad to go home. It shows, I think, that once you take away all the modern gadgets etc. that children haven't really changed so much after all.

    • Tim Blackstone profile image

      Tim Blackstone 7 years ago

      You made me smile with delight at thoughts of times long gone. An enjoyable and thought provoking read and thank you for that.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

      What a great Hub I enjoyed reading every word of it. I think you must be about the age of my daughter and your childhood sounds a lot like my children's childhood. The most memorable moments looking back had little or nothing to do with how much money you spent on them. I have voted you up.

    • Polly C profile image

      Polly C 7 years ago from UK

      Hi Jennifer, thank you for stopping by to read, and for your great comments - I must apologise for the late reply, I was away for a few days. Yes, I had 'magic' dens too, and one thing I really love to see is my son searching for crabs in the rock pools on the nearest coastline. In fact, only a couple of days ago we were camping near Hunstanton beach which, as you might know, is the only place in the East where you can see the sunset over the sea. He found the idea of looking at sunsets extremely boring, but then when we got there we couldn't pull him away, he was so fascinated by all the baby crabs he could find. And not a penny spent, either!

    • Jennifer Lynch profile image

      Jennifer Lynch 7 years ago from Stowmarket, Suffolk.

      Fabulous, yes I made dens too. My dens were really magic and the tea parties my dolls had were unbeatable. Looking for sticklebacks in a small stream with a bucket and net still sticks in my mind. Very good hub.

    • Polly C profile image

      Polly C 7 years ago from UK

      Hi itakins, thank you for reading. I loved hearing your story of your children's 'favourite Christmas', it sounds wonderful - even though it must have been inconvenient, especially at Christmas! It made me think of the powercuts in the 1970's, when the lights would suddenly go out and my parents would run for the candles! I always found it really exciting and even though it didn't last for three days, I remember us all sitting together round the candles.

      Electronic gadgets definitely cause families to separate sonewhat, as everyone goes off into their own little world. Your story shows, though, that at the end of the day children still value spending quality time with their families above anything else. Once again, thanks for your comments :)

    • itakins profile image

      itakins 7 years ago from Irl

      What an eminently sensible hub!A few years ago .following bad storms we had no electricity for 3 days-right over Christmas-no playstations could be played with etc....after 3 days of sheer fun,playing board games by candlelight and chatting together,when the power suddenly returned, all the kids let out great big moans of disappointment!They still talk about their favourite Christmas:)

      It's a funny old world-I agree with you here 100%.

    • Debarshi Dutta profile image

      Debarshi Dutta 7 years ago from Calcutta

      Children live in the age of machines and gadgets. We did not suffer the lure or the threat (as one may call it) of all these gadgets as children.

      Left on our own , we could make choices independent of television channels, numerous gadgets, and many other things which were absent in our life..since these things were absent, they could not motivate, distract or corrupt us from our natural sense and acknowledgment of space time nature and our natural place in it.

      Our children have the misfortune of suffering from all these..It is not true that they enjoy themselves more than we did and neither do they get more pleasure out of their activities.

      Children are hardly aware of 'The book' and how eternal is it's value in keeping one happy.

      So happiness is always to be found on one's own efforts at unraveling the mysteries of the world..and if it already been demystified ..not much happiness remain.

      Sad but true.

    • Polly C profile image

      Polly C 7 years ago from UK

      Yes, I quite agree. We are becoming much more insular with all the electronic gadgetry we have these days. I notice something even worse with my oldest son - once he is finally away from the computer, nintendo wii etc, he is still thinking about it. It's as though it is ingrained in his mind. Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      foreignpress 7 years ago from Denver

      Thanks for a great post. Consumerism -- the insatiable need to buy -- has eroded our values and a sense of who we are. Do we know our neighbors? Likely not. But there was a time when community had meaning. Now it's the more anonymous video games, the addiction to cell phones, and the inimitable television and the internet. Sure, these electronic toys provide a window to the world amid this chaos of globalism. But it's at the expense of close interactions with others. With electronic gadgetry there's now an insular sense of anonymity that makes us feel secure and very private. Your post brings back a time long forgotten; but it's also an Orwellian glimpse into the future.