Last year, I needed an adventure. I decided to take an open-ended backpacking trip to Europe and Africa. I didn’t know exactly where I was going and I didn’t know how long I would be gone. My then guide and traveling companion was a book titled First Time Around The World. The chapter dedicated to packing repeated a very basic premise: “pack light”, because you never know when you’ll have to rush after a train, climbs six flights of stairs or run from a pack of rabid zebra. If you strip down your current life to the bare essentials, you really only need clothes, shelter, food and water. And once you’ve lived out of a backpack for several months with almost nothing and have visited impoverished third world countries, then you realize how little you truly need for survival.
When you begin to focus on the basics, you start to question purchases like curtain rod caps, automated dog food dispensers or the rims for your car tires. Of course these items have their convenience and purpose, but are they truly needed in our world? Almost everything you can find at a Sharper Image or in a Skymall catalog is superfluous to our survival.
There are times in your life when you are explicitly shown what’s truly important, be it a trip around the world, a major disaster like a hurricane or, the common denominator for all of us, the deathbed. At the end of your life when you’re lying in your last moments, I guarantee you will not be thinking, “I wish I reupholstered my sofa” or “If only I had bought that jet ski.” What you will be thinking about is the collective amount of experiences you’ve had in your life, which will rarely have to do with anything tangible. They will be about that sunset you saw from the cliffs of Santorini, that first date with your now-husband or that time you watched your favorite team win that big final game. Your life and your favorite memories are all linked to experiences. This Christmas, consider focusing your disposable income on experiences instead of anything you can get by waiting in line on Christmas Eve.
Instead of buying tons of Christmas gifts, what about renting the family a cabin in Tahoe for the weekend? Instead of buying your girlfriend an uninspired basket of hand lotions, consider taking her out to a fancy dinner instead. What if you took that holiday money you’ve saved and gave it all to a charity you believe in?
As Americans and consumers, we can get caught up in an endless cycle of renewing desires. That means once we get what we’ve been pining for, we then quickly move on to something else, never truly appreciating what we already have.
This season, be grateful for the things you already have and the people in your life. While it’s healthy to want, it’s dangerous to want too much. Especially when it’s possible that, right now, you may already have all the things in the world you need for a happy and fulfilling life.