I'm reading Not Buying It by Judith Levine.
She examines how consumerism affects attitudes and behavior from a personal and universal perspective.
She and I come from very different socio-economic backgrounds, so I don't identify with everything she talks about, but we connect in the important areas. Here's her reflecting on a skiing exhibition with friends that she finds hard to enjoy because she keeps comparing herself to them.
I'm trying to be happy, too. But if only I had ... [her elipses] I'd be keeping up with Grace and Lucy. If only I could buy ... I'd be a better skier. Better skis, a better skier. If only I were more like Grace and Lucy, I'd be a happier person. If I had better skis and were a better skier, I'd be a happier person. I'd be like Grace and Lucy. A better person.
That passage sums up a problem I've been having - a lot us have: sort of always floating in dissatisfaction with my current situation. And it's not only related to material things, as Levine points out in the book. It can be related to anything other people have that you feel you should have - many friends, many lovers, popularity, knowledge, a good physique. I'm always striving, wanting, yearning, and it's causing me to waste the Now.
Even as I read Levine's book, I'm envious of her way with words, her familiarity with books, authors and ideas. I should read Plato's Dialogues and subscribe to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (and learn how to ski!).
I've never felt constrained by my circumstances. I've always felt I could do better, improve. This attitude has its advantages and its shortfalls. If I think I can accomplish almost everything, I feel uncertain about which goals I should go for. Which are realistic and which are not? I feel overwhelmed by my own ambitions.
There's nothing wrong with wanting improvement - no, I won't use the word improvement because that implies deficiency when I'd like to think human beings just are. There's nothing wrong with wanting a more toned body for instance. But the irony of life is that to get a toned body you have to be more or less happy with the one you have now. Because of you're not happy, you're going to feel depressed and anxious and you'll find it difficult to do the things necessary to get the toned body. It's a catch 22.
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Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping
By Judith Levine