*The hustle and bustle of our well-oiled economy was like a finely tuned orchestra. Remember the symphony of spending with reckless abandon, the aria of equity lines and the cantata of credit cards that climbed to a crescendo? The oratorio of easy money transcended conspicuous consumption; it was ridiculous consumption, an aimless pursuit to find happiness and meaning.
But in the immortal words of rap mogul P Diddy, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” and that’s what was waiting for so many at the end of that rainbow when the economy went bust and the stuff so many had amassed during the economic operetta sifted through their fingers. The music they once enjoyed was replaced with was an arresting silence, audible gasp, and sobering reality.
So many people had to literally rebuild their lives after they lost their jobs, homes, social standing and significance. Those who didn’t found they had to retool their lives because the debt they had amassed had left them tittering on the brink. The economic doomsday that befell our nation now has many folks reading from the same sheet of music. It’s a collective yet classic tune. You know it, “Live within your means and finding meaning in living within them.”
It’s a song I grew hearing. I watched my parents and grandparents live by it. They bought what they could afford, they saved for what they wanted and they didn’t spend money they didn’t have. They found honor and dignity in living within their means. Their search for significance was not hitched to things or to what people thought about the things they had.
So they were happier right?
Well let’s examine what happiness is. It’s defined as joyousness, exuberance, glee, hilarity, merry making, delight, bliss, cheer and I could on. I can’t honestly say that characterized my parents. However that does characterize this recent age of conspicuous consumption in which many bought a lot of happiness from Wal-Mart to Neiman Marcus.
The stories traded about living the luxurious life were as exciting as they were enviable. But when those tales of adventure and retail rhapsody morphed into tales of woe because the economy suffered a seismic shift, it wasn’t a happy time at all. People had to shift their identities and accept the reality of what and who they were not.
I think that’s where we all are today. Nowadays, I don’t know a lot of people who are actively pursuing happiness through the acquisition of things, but I do know a whole lot of folk who are actively pursuing peace by shedding houses and cars they can’t afford; buying only the things they need; and budgeting for the things they want. For many, peace drills down to answering the phone without the fear of being greeted by a bill collector. It’s come to that.
Some say this shift in shedding and less consumption is the “new normal.” But it’s actually the “old normal,” a shift back to basics which characterizes how my parents approached life. Their goal was always peace – you know order, tranquility, harmony, calmness and contentment. It’s hard to have peace when you are surrounded by things that are the brink of repossession.
There were joyful moments growing up; I remember lots of them. But I now see that their pursuit of peace was paramount. And from that peace we experienced happiness and found more meaning in life by appreciating the simple things like family meals, picnics in the park, a day a grandma’s house with my cousins, or making that final layaway payment. I so remember how that felt. And when dad bought that new Olds Ninety-Eight, he rolled around town in perfect peace because it was paid for. Even though we had less, it seemed like more. In hindsight, it really was.
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