Friday, June 24, 2011

The Joy of Stuff

The best things in life aren't things.


But I think we all agree that the second best things in life are indeed things.  Lots and lots of tangible, consumable things.

Today I recognize the happiness I get from some of the things I own.  The stuff highlighted today is all newly acquired merchandise which makes it more happiness-giving than the merchandise I bought long ago -- like last week or something.  As you will see, I can justify why I needed every one of these things.  The process of getting them and the state of owning them has brought me happiness.  For now.

(Interjection: A serious scholar would take this moment to research actual scientific studies of human socio-psycho behavior, culling from the current body of work theories of fellow intellectuals on the evolutionary purpose of a desire for material acquisition.  I, on the other hand, will be posing broad, rhetorical questions and answering them with facts from my own imagination!)

Why do we always want to get new stuff?!  We (those of us set firmly in the middle class, with enough discretionary income to buy computers and enough leisure time to read blogs) have plenty of stuff already.  We have so much stuff we need to buy more stuff to hold our stuff.  It's gross.  Yet we spend hours each week seeking out and acquiring new stuff.

Some stuff we can legitimately claim to need.  Food, for instance, is an unarguable human need, something that gets consumed regularly and needs to be replaced.  Clothing is a need, for both physical protection and our civilized need for propriety.  But even these two basic needs get distorted by our urge to collect and possess.  I am admittedly not a foodie, but even I have gone to the grocery store and filled a cart when there were already thousands of calories of sustenance in my 'fridge and cupboards at home. And clothing?  Puleeze.  Come to my house and count how many pairs of jeans I own.  I dare you.

So we don't really need any more stuff on a survival level.  We need more stuff to feel content, proud, worthy, safe, and happy.  Of course, these urges are somehow related to prehistoric man's hunting and gathering.  The stockpiling behaviors we exhibit today are likely related to a need to protect against loss from nasty creatures like saber toothed tigers and fearsome forces like flood and fire.  How this human hardwiring translates into a TJMaxx fetish, I do not quite understand.


I bought new running shoes this week.  My old running shoes felt hard and flat.  I was running with difficulty, getting tired quickly and feeling sore afterwards.  So I went to the mall and bought these bad boys:

For the first day they brought me happiness.  It was like running on tiny little trampolines.  I bounded down the street with ease.  After that I was back to feeling tired and sore.  The little elves in my brain ran this story on the front page of the Nancy News:  Difficulty Running not Caused by Shoes - Age and Body Mass Likely Culprits.

I also bought a new dresser.  Like a huntress, I stalked this prey for weeks.  I thoroughly analyzed my clothing situation.  I culled the undesirables to reduce the volume of clothing that needed storing.  I tried to be happy with what I already had.  (What I already had was two $69 dollar dressers made of cardboard and plastic, the drawers of which were labeled with "Hello, my name is..." stickers, as in "Hello, my name is Underwear.")  I measured my bedroom.  I went to Value City Furniture three times to analyze their offerings.  I settled on something reasonable with maybe a little too much detail for my simple tastes.  Poised for attack at the service counter, I sniffed a note of hesitation on the breeze.  My ancient hunter's instincts told me to wait, delay the gratification of the kill and prolong the chase for one hour.  I was unexplainably lured to a small, locally owned furniture store where I found my prey - perfectly sized, of higher quality and lower price than the first find, and offering free delivery.  I pounced.  Here she is, fresh from the hunt:

As an investment in happiness, this was a good choice.  I dress myself at least once a day, and the experience is more pleasurable because I own this dresser.  I suppose I am gambling that the happiness of owning and using the dresser will last longer than it takes me to pay the dresser off.  We'll see.

Finally, I can report that I bought a portable DVD player.  If you are a loyal RecHap reader you will recall that last week I was torqued by the fact that I had somehow displaced (read: threw away or donated) the portable DVD player we used to use on trips before we got the Big Van and had a built in DVD player.  And now, with the Big Van sold to the fancy-schmancy summer camp, I need a new portable DVD player.  With last week's frustrations behind me, I solved the problem, buying the replacement at Target.
This item will not bring me direct happiness.  I don't think I will ever hold it on my lap and watch a movie on its seven inch screen.  But my children will enjoy it.  It will bring them direct happiness, and because they are an extension of me, I will be happy indirectly, I will experience joy because they have joy.  Or maybe I will be happy because they are quiet in the back seat while I drive ten hours north to Wisconsin.  That's more likely.  Either way, I own it and I'm happy about it.

So, in review, the shoes, the dresser, and the movie player made me happy.  In fact, writing about them makes me happy.  Furthermore, right now I feel happy because I am momentarily happy from writing about things that brought me happiness.  You can see how the things and the non-things get tangled up in my brain.  I'll leave it for more serious scholars to sort them out.  For today, I'll just enjoy myself.

Shop on.

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