Buying Pleasure

As I get older and am around more people that are established in their routines I find that everything we do somehow first involves an exchange of money; especially when we desire pleasure. As a child you find pleasure in be tickled, chasing a bug around the house or playing hide and go seek. Now our desires are more sophisticated and they are more shaped by the culture around us. For us to be pleasured, we expect expensive gadgets, exotic vacations and fancy food. We have lost what it means to find pleasure in the basics of life. No longer is having a meal together at one of our homes pleasurable because we have to cook it. Spending a day on the beach in Sarnia isn’t good enough because the sand isn’t smooth enough, the water isn’t sparkly enough and no one is bringing us drinks. Spending a day reading on your own couch just doesn’t cut it anymore, we have to go South to read our books, it’s more relaxing to be away from the daily grind.

This is a direct result of consumerism. It’s so embedded into our thinking and way of doing things that we can’t imagine any other way of doing anything. If something is offered for free or you can pay a fee for it elsewhere, we almost will always go to where we pay the fee. We use lines like “you get what you pay for” and “I want to purchase quality so it lasts.” Unfortunately the only things that are quality to us are things that cost us more money. We have no other litmus tests of quality rather than the price. We enjoy ourselves less at the local diner than the fancy restaurant. We treat ourselves to the expensive clothes and bear with wearing the cheap ones. We start to prefer beer and wine to drink. We start buying nice new furniture instead of just keeping the old stuff. We even teach our kids our evil ways. The only way children today know how to experience pleasure is if they say they want something and then they get it. As they get older, pleasure is a direct result of how many things they can attain.

All of these consumeristic tendencies, to take it even one step deeper, I think flows from a sense of entitlement. We think that we deserve these things. We come up with all sorts of reasons as to why this is true; we worked hard all our lives, we are getting old or we had it rough before so we are making up for it. They are all lies we tell ourselves to justify our addiction to stuff, not really our addiction to pleasure. Pleasure can’t be bought. We might get a quick rush temporarily of feeling great, but it fades quickly then it needs to be re-administered. So we keep throwing our money at whatever brings us a glimmer of happiness thinking if we just find the right thing at the right time, all will be well again. It never works. Our culture seeks pleasure at any expense and we are the most miserable culture in the history of the world.

We desperately need to start heading back in the other direction. How have we allowed even our pleasure to be dictated by the exchange of money? It cheapens our humanity and pleasure. It turns it into another product we consume up there on the shelf with our toiletries. The other direction brings our pleasure back to where it lasts. Relationships. We need to find pleasure again in just being with others. Playing tic-tac-toe with your children should be more pleasurable than frolicking around an amusement park. Money just complicates it. Watching a movie with a group of friends should be more pleasurable than watching it alone on your home theatre. Going to a potluck should be more pleasurable than eating with one other at a fancy restaurant. If it is true that more and more things have price tags dangling from them, then we need to be very intentional about holding onto the few things that are left that do not.

6 Comments

  • Nathan,

    I posted a quote from the book “The Rebel Sell” little while back on CoG about the psychological roots of consumerism:

    http://civitatedei.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/on-why-consumerism-is-not-a-conspiracy/

    I was going to ask Cavanaugh about this view at the conference, but decided it was too involved of a question. What do you think? I found the argument pretty persuasive. (They give a lot more reasons for believing this theory in the book; you should read it, if you haven’t. I think you’d really enjoy it.)

  • Andrew, excellent quote on your site.

    The economic growth initially produces tangible, permanent gains in individual satisfaction. However, once these more elementary needs are satisfied, goods become valued increasingly for their “honorific” properties. Clothing becomes more ornately decorated, houses become larger, food preparation becomes more elaborate and jewelry begins to make its appearance. All of these goods serve as markers of social status.

    That is sort of what I’m talking about there, but I appreciate the grace in which he extends to the consumer as you keep reading on. The book looks excellent and from this quote, quite balanced, i’ll be sure to get it, thanks!

  • And the wise Solomon denied himself no pleasure or indulgence but still found all to be meaningless.
    Lessons from the past perhaps?

  • Nathan,

    Alain de Botten’s book, Status Anxiety is another book that might be apropos to this discussion.

  • Joyce talked about this in her workshop at the conference. She talked about our culture being both consumerist (pursuit of things) and hedonistic (pursuit of pleasure; and this is so apparent. What I liked was how she talked about spiritual disciplines as ways to help combat these becoming major forces in our lives. She mainly talked about generosity and hospitality and it makes so much sense how just giving more of ourselves to others can help take our focus of what we want for ourselves. I liked her. You guys should bring her back. (there I go.. pursuing the pleasure I get from soaking up her wisdom.. damit)

  • Love this post=)

    …especially the last line…

    “If it is true that more and more things have price tags dangling from them, then we need to be very intentional about holding onto the few things that are left that do not”

Join the Discussion