The addiction

Dedicated to the pursuit of “stuff” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (May 23, 2008).

Any day now my mailman, Bob, will be delivering a hefty check to my mailbox courtesy of the U.S. Treasury. With two kids worth $300 a pop, my wife and I are looking at close to $2,000 of something called “economic stimulus.”

Seems the economy is in trouble. Bear Stearns, now that it doesn’t exist, has become a household name. Adjustable mortgage rates are now accepted for what they are – the mortgage industry’s version of a fixed game of roulette. And fear of a possible recession is talk-show fodder for agenda-pushing politicos.

Apparently, the U.S. Treasury’s gift is supposed to send my wife and me off to the nearest big box store for a flat screen TV. Or perhaps we’ll celebrate the bonus with dinner at a restaurant littered with black-and-white photos of yesteryear. Inspired by the Lassie-era pictures, we’ll toast to new beginnings, to economic stimulation – and to stuff!

Yes, to stuff. After all, isn’t that why we are being told we are now on the brink of a recession? Our growing need to house an ever-expanding albatross of stuff: more bedrooms, more baths, bigger basements, larger lawns? We now suffer from missed mortgage payments on a house we couldn’t afford to begin with, let alone furnish, maintain or mow.

We’ve been duped and deceived by the culture of capitalism. Through sheer greed and an arrogant sense of entitlement, we think we should have as much stuff as we want. Not only do we feel entitled to it, but even sadder, we feel it is essential to our happiness.

It’s about time we reevaluated the handwriting of our forefathers. The Declaration of Independence rightly espoused the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nowhere does it say we have a right to oodles and oodles of stuff. (“Oodles” just wouldn’t look right in fancy calligraphic penmanship.) Besides, I believe George, John, Jeff, and the rest had a better handle on happiness than we do. Now might be a good time to reevaluate happiness.

According to environmental writer Bill McKibben, an annual study of the level of happiness in America showed a peak happiness level in 1956. More than 50 years of advancements in medicine, technology and efficiency have passed, and we’re none the happier for it. Yet we won’t do anything to evaluate our priorities or change our lifestyles to up the happiness quotient in our lives.

Why is that? Greed? Perhaps a bit, but only in that our greed is unconsciously fed by an addiction to stuff.

It’s not unlike an addict struggling with a chemical addiction. Once hooked, there simply is no other way to live. Even in the face of high credit card balances, we’ll still swipe away. Even when we know the mortgage payment is a stretch, we’ll sign 30 years of our lives away. Like the addict, we’ll always want more. We seek the ultimate high, yet we live the ultimate low. The addiction holds us powerless until we hit rock bottom and an outside force helps us reevaluate our lives.

Perhaps our economy is nearing rock bottom – a possible recession at hand. And perhaps that is just what we need to free us of our addiction. Strange as it may sound, we just might be happier for it.

That stimulus check from the Treasury is like the dime glued into the mailer from a charity organization trying to guilt us into sending them some money right back. Here’s a grand or two; do your patriotic duty and install that home theater system.

Sitting in our finished basement, wide screen plasma TV hung on the wall and surround-sound speakers circling us, we’ll be able to watch Extreme Home Makeover in high-def. On the screen, families down on their luck will find happiness in an extravaganza of materialism wrapped in the veil of charity.

So much for the recession. The addiction continues.

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