Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Perspective This Holiday Season

Holiday season 2015, our first year back in the U.S. for the winter holidays, felt very different from this year. I knew before coming home that being back here meant being bombarded by advertisements, commercials, consumerism, and materialism wherever we went and looked. That was one of the reasons we took steps to insulate ourselves from it -- by enrolling our child in a school that allowed no technology in its lower school, by staying offline and away from the radio as much as possible, by not having a television in our house. It also helped immensely that I wasn't working for much of the holiday season last year and didn't have to hear about all the greed. The holiday season was actually enjoyable and relaxing. We visited friends during Thanksgiving, we enjoyed time off outdoors, we stayed away from the shopping malls, and we traveled during the Christmas holiday break.

This year has been almost the opposite. Life has felt hectic and overwhelming since before the Thanksgiving holiday. For Thanksgiving, we traveled to Oregon to visit a friend we met in Thailand, so the days leading up to our visit were filled with preparations for the trip in addition to working. Luckily, our visit there was relaxing and restorative, and it was so good to see my friend whom I've missed dearly.

However, since then, I've felt agitated and flustered by all that is around me. Everywhere I look, there are ads and commercials urging us to buy more, more, more! People can't stop talking about what they want for Christmas, what they're buying for their children and grandchildren. I see pictures of Christmas trees with piles and piles of boxes under them, and homes so filled with holiday decorations that there is not an inch of wall space showing. Children are urged to make lists and lists of what they want, and to keep asking for more. Look at all the "abundance" in our lives, these pictures say. Yet, the same people complain about their finances, about not being able to retire, about not being able to save for their children's education.

For this holiday, we are visiting friends whom we met in Thailand, but who recently moved to South America. Because mail is slow and unreliable there, they asked us to bring them some things and Christmas presents from their families for their children. The pile of things we have received on their behalf is staggering -- we are bringing two or three suitcases of things just for them. Looking at all the things, I only see the piles of trash that will be generated and thrown away thoughtlessly and carelessly; it makes me feel nauseated.

People are spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars just to make themselves and their children "happy" -- temporarily -- on things that will be sitting in a closet gathering dust within a month or two. Then they buy and read books on how to "de-clutter," throw out or donate all the things they had spent their hard-earned money to buy and accumulate, and pat themselves on the back for being "disciplined" and "giving." Oh, the irony of it all.

I was never one to buy and accumulate things, and always tried to live minimally. But it took me moving to Thailand to see how unnecessarily and overly abundant and wasteful life is here in the U.S. And it took me coming back to see how truly privileged our lives were in Thailand -- to be able to live overseas and experience another country and culture, to be able to afford household help and live so comfortably in a big house, and to be able to travel so much. One value I admired in Asia was the lack of waste. Everything was kept and reused; if something was broken, it was repaired, not thrown away. Things served multiple purposes. Only enough food was made to be finished at each meal. Those were ways of life I was taught growing up, but had since forgotten. I enjoyed re-learning and living those values again in Thailand.

Now that we're back, I am continuing living that way while appreciating and feeling very grateful for the fortune and abundance I've had in my life -- not just for the holiday season, but every day -- and giving back whenever, however, and wherever I can. And I hope everyone will think about how much they have in their lives as well, and think about giving back and helping the less fortunate instead of how much they are getting and receiving.

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