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I noticed something this Christmas that really unsettled me. My Facebook feed was filled almost exclusively posts about gifts. What people had gotten their children, what they themselves had received, and picture-perfect Christmas trees eclipsed by huge piles of presents. I expected a few “Jesus is the reason for the season” posts from my Christian friends, but no, the “stuffitis” continued on most of their pages as well.
Why did this bother me so much? I certainly put up a Christmas tree and bought my kids presents this year just like any other. Perhaps its because sometimes it seems like a competition. Who can buy their children the most presents, and the most extravagant ones. Perhaps its because Americans spend 3 trillion dollars on Christmas each year when it would only take $30 billion to completely eradicate world hunger. Or maybe its just because I am convicted by my own “stuffitis” and on a journey to cure the disease of discontent.
Discontentment is a disease that has pervaded every class and religion, and is fueling our consumeristic society like gas on a bonfire. We see it more starkly during the holiday season when parents take out loans to finance their children’s gifts, and lines wrap around the store of people returning gifts they weren’t happy with.
I don’t think of myself as an especially DIScontented person, but I spend plenty of time “window shopping” online dreaming of things I can update in my house, technology I think would be useful for my blog, or even just silly things like makeup and pens. Why do we love to shop so much? Why can’t we just be happy with what we have?
There is actually a scientific reason behind our obsession with shopping. It’s called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that is associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This chemical plays a huge role in addictive behavior, and can lead to poor shopping decisions. The anticipation of shopping, or acquiring a new item can trigger a dopamine release that is satisfying for a time, but as is the case with every other addiction, will eventually leave the addict wanting more.
If I get that new lamp I’ll finally like my living room. Those fun pens will make me happy! With each subsequent, mindless purchase we chase the dopamine high. And with each thrill our judgement gets further clouded. So how do we stop this cycle?
For me personally just recognizing the fact that something biological was going on helped me to step back and stop mindlessly shopping.
We also need to stop an examine what emptiness it is that we are trying to fill with stuff. Discontent is not a material issue, but rather one of the heart. We joke about retail therapy, when in reality shopping is not a healthy coping mechanism for stress and traumas.
One practice I have instituted that has helped me deal with my own discontent is practicing gratitude. That’s right – practicing! The dictionary defines gratitude as
“the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
This isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. Whether I actually FEEL grateful, I make a point to either say it or write it down. Every day I list things I am grateful for, from my kids to my favorite pen. After a while of intentionally practicing gratitude, the attitude in my heart tends to follow.
We are so insanely blessed. Almost all of us are in the top 1% of richest people in the world! So I challenge you to stop focusing on acquiring more material possessions, but instead learn to be grateful for the ones you already have. This simple practice has been life-changing for me, and I hope this has inspired you to find that peace for yourself.