Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Flannel lessons

I was walking in a store the other day and saw a flannel shirt on a shelf. I looked at it for a moment and thought to myself, "I like that color combination... should I buy it?"

I was wearing a flannel at the time.

Sometimes, inconsequential moments can be vessels for surprise epiphanies, and this was just such a time. The differences between the flannel on the shelf and the one I was wearing were few, but some minute characteristic made me think for a split second that it could be rational to buy another shirt so similar.

Now the materialistic and often manipulative influence of a consumeristic society certainly plays a part here. With such a surfeit of material goods, whatever's newer, better or bigger somehow has the power to overshadow our perfectly adequate current possessions. Of course, this is the success of consumerism- access to an overabundance of products paired with strategic marketing to create an unending desire for more. Despite this being against everything I'd like to represent, I can't say I am exempt from this effect. I can express gratitude for the things I have, and then in the same breath express desire for something new.

(*For the record, I do realize that living in a socioeconomic position where an overabundance of provisions is even something to wrestle with is, in itself, an immense privilege. But the basic truth is that we wrestle with the culture we're immersed in, relative to what we've known and experienced throughout our lives..)

I've thought before that perhaps the best way to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of materialism is to avoid stores altogether. If I'm not exposed to what's new, I won't desire it. But standing in front of the flannel on the shelf, I realized that hiding from the market we live in is an impermanent and hallow method of remaining materially content. A more genuine solution to keep my behavior congruent with my values occurred to me:

Contentment is not about the absence of something better, it's about- in the presence or possibility of something better- choosing to be content through gratitude for what you already have. It's being able to acknowledge that yes, there is something newer or greater, but what I've got does the job, and I'm satisfied with just that.

Since that day, I haven't gone more than a few hours without thinking about this. It's a simple and possibly obvious statement to some, but nonetheless has impacted me significantly; although the situation may have seemed trivial, this perspective is applicable to the non-material areas of life as well the material. Be it with technology, relationships, food, or a car, this is one way to mobilize gratitude- move it from a state of feeling, to a state of behavior-affecting action.