Letting Go of Black Friday
Categories: Psychology & Personal Growth
About ten years ago, my family decided to simply stop buying presents for each other, and I have a very big family. While at first I felt some sadness at not having that festive present-opening moment, it has really been a blessing. When we all get together, we have a much better time—we are less stressed out, and as a result the quality of our conversations is better—a lot better. We don’t arrive at the gathering at the end of our ropes. I should mention that my family are not die-hard anti-consumerists. Everyone just got tired of it. The small kids get a few presents. That’s it.
So when I hear so many people say to me, “The holidays are crazy!” I wonder who is it exactly that makes them “crazy”? Do they really need to be?
Are each of us carrying around an internalized version of “White Christmas” with a mountain of brightly-wrapped presents, and a mountain of food on the table? I’m not saying that moment itself is bad, but if it causes us five weeks of rush, worry, and stress, is it really living up to our own ideal of the “good life”? What do we truly believe in? Can we act from that belief, and not on auto-pilot? Can we give in ways that are not consumerist? Can we give of our time?
In my book, The Abundance of Less, I interviewed a very insightful woman living in rural Japan who said, “If you don’t have a whole lot of unsatisfied people, the current economic system stops dead.” What Amemiya means is that we buy things and more things out of our sense of “not-enough-ness.” We want the new computer, the better one, and after that the even better one. However, as she says, “If you keep chasing that kind of thing, there’s no end to it. You have to work more and even more.”
One thing I discovered in researching this book and meeting the ten people I profiled in it was that I myself was part of the problem too. But it wasn’t just my unsustainable actions: buying too much, wasting things, and rushing my precious days, like the rest of us. It was the unconscious beliefs I had that were driving that behavior. I believed I had to be productive all the time. That was an “industrialized mindset.” But when Mr. Nakamura had hours and hours to sit and talk with me while we gazed at the fire, I discovered I could actually be happy.
I also believed I had to constantly stimulate my mind with new products and purchases and music and movies. But when I met Mr. Murata, who plays only seven songs on his giant bamboo flute, over and over, getting better and better at them, I realized there was a great richness to be had in sinking deeper into fewer things.
If we can stop our unconscious behaviors by becoming aware of the underlying beliefs behind them, we can change our lives—not in a huge dramatic weekend-workshop kind of way, but in a gradual letting go of our consumerist programming. And it’s very important that we do. We, the middle class, are destroying the earth by using too much. And with Black Friday upon us, we need to use that awareness to combat the tendency to join the frenzy for shopping, buying, consuming, that has risen to such a hysterical pitch.
Hysterical? Yes. According to the “Black Friday death count,” ten people have been killed since 2006, and 105 injured, as a result of this shopping event, including one worker trampled to death at a WalMart during a Black Friday stampede.
So what did I learn from my family stopping the “Christmas-present-from-everyone-to everyone” tradition? That we can change our culture, and our patterns, and that even though change can be a bit uncomfortable at first, it is possible. And it does feel good.
The Abundance of Less
Andy Couturier captures the texture of sustainable lives well lived in these ten profiles of ordinary—yet exceptional—men and women who left behind mainstream existences in urban Japan to live surrounded by the luxuries of nature, art, friends, delicious food, and an abundance of time. Drawing on traditional Eastern spiritual wisdom and culture, these pioneers describe the profound personal transformations they underwent as they escaped the stress, consumerism, busyness, and dependence on technology of modern life. This intimate and evocative book tells of their fulfilling lives as artists, philosophers, and farmers who rely on themselves for happiness and sustenance. By inviting readers to enter into the essence of these individuals’ days, Couturier shows us how we too can bring more meaning and richness to our own lives.