The holiday season is advertiser season.
We see a parade of TV commercials and online ads showing us peaceful, thankful and content people. But they’re not real, are they? They’re actors, visions created for us by clever marketers, promising us the good life if only we’ll buy their product.
Perhaps you’re not like the people in the ads. Maybe instead of peaceful, thankful, and content, you feel anxious, resentful, and confused?
If so, I’d like to venture a diagnosis. And if the diagnosis seems to fit, perhaps we can take steps towards healing.
Here’s my diagnostic question: Are you mostly a consumer…or a contributor?
Most of the ads this holiday season will try to convince us that being a consumer is the most satisfying state imaginable.
They remind me of the time years ago our family went to Disney World. Arriving at our hotel, we entered a room marked “Hospitality.” My youngest son asked, “What’s hospitality?”
Before anyone else could answer, a gregarious Disney employee piped up, “What’s hospitality? You want it – you got it!”
That is the promise advertisers make to every consumer: We’ll meet your every need. We’ll satisfy your every whim. All with free shipping and delivery straight to your door!
But…how did you feel Thursday night after consuming all day long?
And how about Friday night after Shopping-as-Warfare Day, a.k.a., Black Friday?
When we give ourselves over to the myth that “The Consumer Life is the Good Life,” we do a version of what too many did on Thursday…gorging on a giant Thanksgiving Feast at lunch, and following that up with a repeat performance at the in-laws that night.
To be clear, I’m not advising eschewing pleasures of this life and adopting the life of an ascetic. That’s not a good idea, nor one you’re likely to adopt, no matter what I say.
But I do think the peace, gratitude, and contentment that advertisers tease us with can be found, not in consuming…but in contributing. Such things come, not to consumers, but to contributors.
The truth is, you and I were made for meaning…to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others.
In rare cases, our contributions to others and to the world are expressed in big, public ways. Most of the time, however, they are quiet and hidden: A good day’s work. Going the extra mile to be excellent. A kind word, written or spoken. A harsh word withheld. A kindness done. A smile returned when a frown was offered.
Therein lies the beauty of a life of contributing: Our consumption becomes more satisfying and balanced. Healthy contribution creates the capacity for healthy consumption.
Here’s what I mean: When you see your self as a contributor who gives first, then consuming is primarily about replenishing your capacity to contribute. When we live selflessly like this, gratitude is more natural and thanksgiving is more unforced.
So if you woke up this morning with a “what just happened?” feeling, consider the possibility you approached Thanksgiving as a consumer, not a contributor.
It’s hard to be thankful when our paradigm is that of a consumer.
Switching that mind-set to that of a contributor first will not only change your experience next Thanksgiving, but every day between now and then.
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