Saturday, January 5, 2013

"Cheap Happiness"?

Why do we love distraction so much? What are we hoping to find by chasing after so many things?

I was in Target the other day. I needed raw almonds, and they have the big two pound containers. My plan was to go in, get the almonds, pay for them, and leave the store. Well...maybe I'd peek in the electronics section, quickly. Heh heh.


Okay, where are the almonds? Oooh, books! Not much new here. Bleech. Its a bunch of garbage...oh wait, here's Political Scuttlebutt by Fred BigMouth. I wanna take a quick look at this.
Twenty minutes of reading. Then I finally said, "nah, this isn't very good."
Now, why am I here? Almonds!
Let me just check to see if there are any bargains in electronics.
On the way I pass the books and the DVDs and the clothes (let me look at those shirts over there...) and the bling and the food. Everywhere stuff is flashing, aiming for the appetites (and usually aiming low). Eat THIS!!! Giant "Creme*" Puff Poos (*artificially flavored). Sodas! Drink me, drink me, drink me!!! I have VITAMIN C. I have NO CHOLESTEROL. No sugar, no calories, drink me and be beautiful!
Movies? They're all trash, or else stuff blowing up. Two for five bucks.
Oh yeah, everywhere the magic words beckon: ON SALE! Save Money!

S.A.V.E.  M.O.N.E.Y.

Its remarkable: you spend money, but you feel like you've saved money. What a deal! So you spend your money on stuff that you don't need and wouldn't have even thought of buying, but you walk out of the store feeling like a champion. "Look how much money I saved! See, its in bold print, on the receipt."

In reality, you exchanged your money for a bag of junk. Which you are bringing home to a house full of junk. And what is all that junk really worth?

I suspect that the "health" of our economy depends on a lot of us being suckers.

Meanwhile, I'm in Target at office supplies, checking out some pens. Pens are fun. So are calculators, and writing paper, and all these things that no one uses anymore. But I've been here over an hour! I'm going to get the almonds...right after I swing by computer accessories.
Wait, what am I doing? I'm surfing the Target. This is like wasting time on the Internet, but with legs.

I finally got my almonds in the end, and I didn't spend any money on junk, but something still bothered me. A ten minute errand stretched into two hours of what? Distraction. Mostly I'm just laughing at myself here. There's nothing wrong with "window shopping," right? And its not like I was pressed for time.

But this wasn't like strolling down Main Street. I sort of felt like I was being pulled all around the store. Distracted. Not by the trashy stuff (I don't look at those things), but by all the other stuff. Everything seemed cloying. Everything seemed to be jumping off the shelves and saying, "look at ME! I can make you HAPPY."

Its the whole "cheap grace" thing, but in a more diffused mode, because we don't even talk about "grace" anymore. The reason why its being served up, more and more, bigger and faker than ever, is that we're still looking for it. We want transcendence in a package. We want "cheap happiness"! We like to play around with artificially flavored happiness, plastic happiness, processed happiness.

We don't care if its fake as long as it looks and feels real, and as long as its a bargain. Of course, fake is fake. So we're not satisfied, and we keep buying more. That's why we have houses full of junk. That's why we have hearts full of junk (in more ways than one).

Why are we so restless? Why do we keep trying to settle for the cheap stuff? Is it because we know that real happiness can't be bought at any price?

Real Happiness is not cheap.

Real Happiness is not for sale at all.

Real Happiness is free, if we are willing to receive it as a gift. It means becoming like children. It means being humble, and that can't be faked.

It also means making room, at least in the spaces of the heart. Are we willing to let go of our junk?


Arleen Spenceley said...

What a great post! I wholeheartedly share your sentiments.

Leslie said...

Hi John! Love your blog and LOVE this article! I won't be able to step foot in this store without thinking of the lure for cheap happiness! If you are inclined, check out the "WalMart Effect" (Samuels has it). Walmart is less appealing that Target but they manage to lure and trap customers into buying things that they dont need because it is a bargain. Now I am pondering the lure of thrift stores. . . ouch.

Looking forward to reading your future posts!

John Janaro said...

Hey Leslie, how are you? I didn't really mean to "target" Target in particular. It just happened to be the big box store I went into that day. My experience is pretty much the same in any "Stuffmart" I happen to be (and yes, this post does play on the "Madame Blueberry" theme). I used to joke about WalMart that if they put in a Catholic church, I would never, ever have to leave the place. Ha! Its funny too that these stores still have an edge on Amazon in this respect (I've heard rumors that Amazon wants to start building their own big boxes, yikes). As for thrift stores (and flea markets) they can be diverting (although nothing can quite compare to the sheer ferocity of the experience of the annual St. James Parish Sale). ;) Still, we need these places...otherwise the kids would have nothing to wear! Haha. Thanks for reading.