Article by Alison Burton
In the aftermath of Christmas our family home always needed a big clear out. We emptied and sorted cupboards and wardrobes in an attempt to make room for the new toys, clothes and gadgets that Santa had so generously left for us. The excitement and build up to the festive season was always followed by a somewhat guilty sense that we all had way too much stuff.
We thought a Happy Christmas meant lots of presents. In Western society, the consumerism that our economy is built on, is hard to escape. In the past, buying things was promoted as a responsible way to keep the country prosperous and shopping has become one of our society’s main leisure activities. We now shop for pleasure rather than necessity. Most of us love to shop, but for many people, including children, this has actually become an addiction. The pleasure of buying something new is short-lived, and quickly followed by a craving to buy something else. Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, actually talks about our addiction to wanting. Not only do we love to shop, but we love to “want.” The idea of getting something new is tantalising. We research the desired item, browse catalogues, search on line, take great pleasure in anticipating the purchase and imagine owning the shiny new thing and how happy we will be. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a new car or a new frying pan, we love the idea of getting more stuff, thinking it will make us happy. Unfortunately retail therapy doesn’t work. Our love of shopping doesn’t translate into sustained happiness. It just leaves us craving the next purchase after that brief high.
A study done at the University of Newcastle found that materialists are not as psychologically healthy as those who prefer a simple life. They were more susceptible to depression, anger and dissatisfaction with life. They were also found to be less concerned about the environment. The destructive impact of consumerism on the planet goes without saying, but the impact to our emotional and mental health, when we constantly want more, is of great concern. It’s as if we have a deep sense that something is missing in our lives and believe that the next purchase will fill the gap and make us whole. It doesn’t. With the resources on the planet rapidly running out, maybe it’s time to realise that we don’t need more stuff, we need more contentment with the stuff we have.
As parents we all want our children to be happy. I believe that happiness and contentment go hand in hand. Contentment can be taught, but it’s difficult to teach something that you have not mastered for yourself. Step one, in helping children to learn contentment, is to become content within yourself. How do you achieve that? The Buddhists tell us to let go of desire. They say that desire causes suffering. Spiritual teaching says count your blessings and be grateful. Countless self-help teachers have recommended keeping a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, simply write down 5 things that you experienced during the day that you are grateful for. They may be big or small things. Do it for yourself and also help your child to think of at least 5 things they are grateful for. It could be something like a warm bath, or enjoying time at the park. Make it part of your child’s the bedtime routine. You can add little drawings if you like. This is a powerful way to reset the attitude centre of the brain, putting it into a positive state prior to sleep. Over time this practice significantly improves our mood throughout the day. We begin to subconsciously look for the good things in life rather than the negatives. We become content.
Some tips to teach kids contentment:
- Help children to keep a gratitude journal. Write 5 things a day.
- Teach children that they can choose their thoughts. Some thoughts make us happy, some don’t.
- Help them practice being in the “Now.” Play a game to discover how many sounds they can hear or how many things of a certain colour they can see right now.
- Teach them to physically relax their body. Go from head to toe and imagine turning everything to jelly.
- Simplify life and clear the clutter.
- Let children manage their own money. Give them a budget for toys, clothes, outings etc. Once I started doing this, my children became very discerning about how many show-bags they needed at the Melbourne Show, and the nagging for more stopped in its tracks.
- Ensure they give 10% of any money they receive to a charity. Let them choose which one. www.KarmaCurrency.com.au is fabulous. You can buy a goat or an acre of rainforest, adopt a dolphin or support a hundred other causes. This teaches children compassion.
- Be creative with play. Throw a sheet over the kitchen table to make a cubby house. Mix cornflour and water for an amazing play dough. Make mud pies or string autumn leaves together. Imagination is the best and cheapest toy you could ever have.
- Shop for toys at the Op Shop. Take some with you to exchange.
- Visit the library regularly and find your nearest toy library.
- Enjoy regular fresh air and exercise together.
For a powerful reminder to avoid the temptation of consumerism take a look at story of stuff on YouTube. It’s a short animated film you can watch with your children. Teach them to enjoy the simple life and remember that the best things in life really are free.
By Alison Burton
Clinical Hypnotherapist and Director of Simply Natural Therapies, Natural Health and Wellbeing Centre in Doncaster East.