Thursday, October 22, 2009


Although Halloween has not yet been crossed off the calendar, the Christmas marketing campaigns are now entrenched. They arrive in camouflage mode in summer. By early fall they are in full-scale bombardment.

Choked by the country’s economic nosedive, most parents are scrambling to deliver the array of presents their children have come to expect living in the material world. While visions of video games and new wardrobes dance in their kids’ heads, parents are holding onto theirs wondering where it’s all going to come from.

After all, we need more. We are a country of more. Most of us were raised on little. Yet the notion of attainment was a seed that was planted and fertilized well. We gave and continue to give television our full attention. And the advertisers have their way with us.

I'm just as guilty. I worked in advertising for years, writing copy for nondescript products, propping them up as exceptional when the company and I both knew they were mediocre at best.

As a kid, I was captivated by television. I can still sing the jingles from McDonald’s, Burger King, Coke, Pepsi, Roto-Rooter and Oscar Mayer (both weeners and bologna, mind you). Somehow, somewhere along the line, the thought that “happiness is derived from having more” became a part of my psyche.

The older I get, the more overwhelmed I feel by my stuff. Why are we Americans in a constant state of lack? Are we so empty inside that we need to grasp at something, anything, to fill the void?

Perhaps we just don't know how to be happy.

Apparently, the Danes do. They are considered the happiest people on Earth. Oprah set out to find out why.

“Less things, more life,” the smiling, statuesque woman explained as she Skyped into the show from Copenhagen.

The city apartment she shares with her husband and three children is shockingly small, yet behind every sleek white surface is an entire town of organization.

On Oprah’s recent visit to Denmark, she met with a group of women to discuss Danish culture. It’s one that focuses on values over money, they explained. Values like education and family and creativity. They choose careers that fulfill them, not based on how much money they will earn.

They are heavily and happily taxed. Yes, happily.

“We feel we get a lot for our taxes,” explained Stine. She described how taxes allow everyone to access health care and get a university education, and how that makes for a healthier society – physically and mentally.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this segment. Happy with less? Truly a foreign concept.

In Peter Walsh’s book, It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living A Richer Life With Less Stuff, he writes, “We are at the center of an orgy of consumption, and many are now seeing that this need to own so much comes with a heavy price: Kids so overstimulated by the sheer volume of stuff in their home that they lose their ability to concentrate and focus. Financial strain caused by misplaced bills or overpurchasing. Constant fighting because neither partner is prepared to let go of their possessions. The embarrassment of living in a house that long ago became more of a storage facility than a home.”

In the end, more stuff makes us feel smothered. It’s more to manage. More to care for. More to look at. More to distract. It closes in on us. It clutters not just our environment, but our minds. It blocks us from being the best we can be – as individuals and as families.

We intrinsically know that real happiness comes from the level of our connectedness. Yet we go against our true nature when we put our money in things that separate us.

Last Christmas/Hanukkah, my husband and I told the kids they would get a few presents, but what we really wanted to do was spend more time together. I was expecting to hear groans. Instead, their eyes lit up.

My daughter hugged me and whispered, “There’s nothing I like better than to be with you.”

This year, we will add to that by giving things away and carefully selecting each gift by its level of interaction required. Board games with four or more players are high on the list.

I am clear on my New Year’s resolution for 2010: Less things, more life.