The danger of consumerism: Can money make you happy?

There is an old axiom that says, “Money can’t buy happiness”.  I suspect most of us would agree with that statement. Most of us have probably said it at one point or another. The question though is do we really believe it? If an outsider looked at our checkbook and our actions would they be convinced we believe it?

Consumerism raises its head in many ways in our society. Just a week or so ago the major news was the Powerball lottery had hit 500 million dollars.Many people were dreaming the what if’s. If only I had the winning numbers I could change my life. Not only that but I could change the lives of my friends and family.

This emphasis on consumerism also raises its head each year at this time as Christmas rolls around. Black Friday turns into Black Thursday. Christmas decorations fight for a spot next to the Halloween candy.We are the most marketed-to culture in the history of the world. It can be easy to lose the real meaning of Christmas in the midst of all the ads.

“Stuff” isn’t the problem

It is common this time of year to read columns that speak against the commercialization of Christmas that exalt a simpler approach. money can't buy happinessGiving to a cause as opposed to buying a bunch of gifts for family and friends. Focusing on the “reason for the season” as opposed to Santa and his reindeer. This isn’t what I want to say here.

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with giving gifts to those we care about during this time. Nor do I believe there is anything wrong with enjoying the other traditions of the Holidays as long as we don’t forget that the celebration of Jesus’ birth is the real point.

Stuff isn’t really the problem. “Stuff” is neither good or bad.  Paul said:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Phil. 4:12

The problem is when we look for our happiness and fulfillment through stuff.  It’s kind of like the schoolyard bully that draws a line in the sand and dares us to cross. When we do there’s always another line to cross. There will always be something else that we “need” to be happy.

Doesn’t stop with stuff

In his book, The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity, Skye Jethani notes that consumerism is not really the worship of stuff, it is the worship of self at any cost. Skye says the problem with consumerism is it can spill over into far more than our shopping habits.

  • Don’t like my house anymore? Move to a bigger, fancier one. I’ll worry about the payments later.
  • Spouse doesn’t quite measure up anymore? File for divorce and find a new one.
  • Church isn’t “meeting your needs”? I’ll go down the street and find another or maybe I’ll just quit going altogether.

Christ is just one more option that satisfies our consumer needs. If we decide we don’t like that option, we move on to another.

This is the real danger that consumerism presents. We are looking for fulfillment and happiness in things that can’t provide it in any lasting way.

Finding the real source of happiness

I think this is why in Matthew Jesus says:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24

The King James version uses the word “mammon” here instead of money. Basically the word mammon means all of our possessions. Our “stuff”.

The problem with stuff is that we can learn to depend on it to provide happiness and security. It is a very poor substitute for the real thing. That God-shaped hole that He put into each of us can only be truly filled by Him. When we try to fill it with games and toys and things and even other people, we will ultimately find ourselves very dissatisfied.

So this Christmas you can enjoy giving gifts to those you love. (If you have the money to do so and you won’t be spending the next year paying the bills.) But don’t forget that those gifts provide only temporary happiness. True joy is found only in the One whose birthday we celebrate.

Photo credit: alliecreative (creative commons)

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