The holiday called Boxing Day appears on some of our calendars in the United States, but is only officially celebrated in Canada, the UK, and much of the rest of the old British Commonwealth. I’ve covered Boxing Day in an earlier bluejayblog post two years ago: http://tinyurl.com/mfcc3f5
There is a fairly recent practice of after-Christmas retail activity that’s become quite popular in the United States. In my mind, I’ve labeled it “unofficial Boxing Day”. December 26th is when many of us pack up the gifts so thoughtfully selected for us, then return them for exchanges or cash refunds. This practice is becoming more and more acceptable in society.
Certainly, if the sweater or underwear from grandma is the wrong size, then an exchange for the correct size is perfectly understandable. However, the wholesale trooping to the stores of America to swap gifts for “better” stuff and money, rubs me the wrong way.
The mass exodus of rejected gifts back to the original stores for “better” or for money seems like the opposing counterpart to Black Friday. Many American gift-givers have now come to expect that their carefully chosen tokens of love and appreciation will be trotted back to the mall. Some of us pack the sales reciepts for the convenience of the gift recipient. Just thinking about this, makes me feel a bit sad. The thing is more important than the gesture of love.
The publication “Motivation and Emotion” says there is a direct correlation between acts of overt materialism of this sort and the lack of empathy, relatedness, and unhappiness. Many independent studies have verified this finding. Furthermore, research has found that as people place more stress upon ownership of things, their wellbeing suffers. That is, autonomy, interpersonal relationships, stability, and emotional health are lessened.
Another aspect that I’ve noticed for the past few decades, is that we have been shoehorned into the category called “consumers”. We are constantly encouraged to desire luxury goods. We are supposed to want more and better things. A proper consumer should want to upgrade her phone, appliances, and clothing. A productive consumer should have the latest, gadgets, motor vehicle and furnishings. We are to update and upgrade as often and as soon as possible.
In the bargain, consumers indulge in competitive aquisition and become ever more selfish. The new stuff displaces social responsibility, socializing, and friendship aside from the urge to show off their new and improved stuff. When we self-identify as consumers, we are more vulnerable to the images presented in advertisements. In an anecdotal way, my years as a consumer who also was employed in the advertising industry, verified these things, personally.
The findings have also been verified by the publication of a similar study in the trade paper, “Journal of Consumer Research”. The researchers discovered a direct correlation between loneliness and overt materialism. One begets the other and feeds upon each other in a vicious cycle. That is materialism breeds social isolation, then, in an effort to offset the feelings of isolation, the consumer fills the void with more materialism. Things, increasingly, crowd out friendships. The remaining friends soon feel intimidated by ever more incessant competitive consumption, leading to even fewer true blue friends.
The mistake is compounded when the label “consumer” is fully integrated into the personality. Instead of citizens or human beings, we have passively allowed ourselves to become defined by what we do or do not own. Our material possessions have become measuring sticks of supposed success.
I have nothing against having “enough” to live a reasonably comfortable life. I’m not an advocate of subsistance existance. Either extreme is just that they are just that, extreme. To be dirt poor is certainly a path to unhappiness as much as having excessive wealth.
The trouble with competitive acquisitiveness is that it becomes a social cancer on the body of a nation. We see this coming to light with the awareness of how the one-percent has pitted themselves against the 99-percent in the USA. This has been manifesting as corporate strategy and corruption of government. The passive acceptance of more police and military control over everyday problems. To be sure, the degradation of the environment comes to mind. Our communities and civic life are falling prey to this very mindset.
While excessive materialism is not the cause of the increasing balkinization of America, the acquisitivness is acting as a catalyst and accelerant to the process. It’s not too late to halt this process.
That is why I felt compelled to write today’s post as an Op-Ed. I hope that all of us can pause on this Boxing Day to see how we have allowed our roles as consumers to affect our lives. How are we compensating for our own personal times of unhappiness?
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes the traditional Boxing Day practice of giving to ones employees and the needy on December 26th.