- Mental Health»
Happiness in an Age of Commercialism
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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