Monday, February 7, 2011

Stuff's Got a Hold of Us

OK. We're two-thirds of the way through Alcorn's keys to the Treasure Principle. Last time, we talked about living for the line (eternity) rather than the dot (the here and now). Easier said than done, I know.

The reason it's easier said than done is quite simple: we have a condition Alcorn calls "possession obsession." We are overly concerned with acquiring nice things - things that make us feel good.

As Alcorn points out, there's a PBS television program entitled Affluenza that delves into the problem of the "modern-day plague of materialism." Here are a few shocking stats this program unveils:
  • The average American shops six hours per week, while only spending 40 minutes playing with his children.
  • By age 20, we have seen one million commercials (perhaps fewer now with DVR)
  • Recently, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college.
  • In more than 90 percent of divorce cases, money plays a prominent role.
The TV program didn't argue against materialism on a moral basis. Instead, the program showed that having greater wealth didn't make people happier. In fact, it made them more miserable. Some of the wealthiest people in the 19th and 20th centuries all agreed that more money and prominence actually had a negative effect on them - John D. Rockefeller, W.H. Vanderbilt, Henry Ford, John Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie.

Most people (myself included) go overboard to protect their possessions. It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to maintain a possession's beauty. But, Randy Pausch didn't think that way. The late professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, in his famous "Last Lecture," talked about the time he purchased a brand new convertible, and drove it to his sister's house. Randy didn't have children at the time, but he had a nine year old niece and a seven year old nephew.

Before he took them for a ride in his brand new sports car, the mom warned the kids, "Be careful in Uncle Randy's new car. Wipe your feet before you get in. Don't mess anything up. Don't get it dirty."

But, Randy Pausch had something else in mind. "While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it over the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: people are more important than things. A car, even a pristine new car like my convertible, was just a thing."

Wow. I'm not there yet, but I hope to be someday.

So, how do I remove the cloak of materialism? How can I be less concerned with accumulating more stuff?

This brings us to Treasure Principle Key #5: Giving is the only antidote to materialism.

Says Alcorn, "As long as I still have something, I believe I own it. But, when I give it away, I relinquish control, power, and prestige...Giving breaks me free from the gravitational hold of money and possessions."

Perhaps C.S. Lewis summed it up best: "We are far too easily pleased."

Don't settle. Give - and give some more. And, see what true joy is really all about.

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