5. Consumerism and the Art of Zen

I started formulating this theory last night, so I’m going to try to flesh it out more here. Essentially, my theory is that actually buying what you want to buy will decrease your consumer habits and give you more happiness. It seems so simple, right? So why does it seem like so few people actually do so?

Here’s a bit of background into why I started developing this idea last night. Yesterday, Ricardo and I were at IKEA buying the last pieces of furniture we needed for the apartment. As many of you might now, IKEA has literally everything. So we were walking through the store, and towards the front of the store there were those little wooden posable drawing models of humans. I’ve always wanted to get one of those, but I never have. I looked at it and right then and there decided I would get it. I’ve always wanted one but never have gotten one, so why not just get it right there and never have to think about wanting to get one again?

That little drawing model is one of the best purchases I made yesterday. (The other best purchase was an actual table that we can actually use.) I got home and was so happy to finally have it. And just like that, all the moments of desiring to have one of those little wooden models that have built up over the years vanished. It was, in a very strange way, such a relief.

I realized that for the rest of the IKEA trip I wasn’t wanting to buy any other random miscellaneous or cool item that tried to reach out to me; believe me, there certainly were enough of them. But after I decided at the very beginning to get that little model, that was enough for me. I was satisfied and didn’t want anything else.

I’ve noticed as a trend that oftentimes people deny themselves the things that they want most, and then make up for the lack of that one thing with buying a quantity of other things to fill the void. I honestly think that’s part of why consumerism has taken off so much. Delayed gratification doesn’t really work for stuff. You end up buying more and more and spending much more than you would have had you just got that one item you really wanted in the first place. Then, the moment you buy it, you can simply let that desire go and the desire for more stuff doesn’t consume you.

One of the major tenets of Zen is letting go of attachment. By letting go of attachment, you let go of the ability of other things, places, and persons in the world to control you. Of course, letting go of attachments is easier said than done. Nonetheless, there is definitely something to be said for being your own person uncontrolled by the trivialities around you. I myself am still working on this, but I think it’s something that can always be worked on.

Stuff – and by stuff, I mean material objects – has this weird ability to capture our attention. In some rare instances, we become obsessed with the idea of owning specific things that have particularly caught our imagination. For some reason, I think this consumerist society we live in has somehow given us the idea that consuming things and buying things we want is bad. If it is so bad, then we shouldn’t buy the things we actually want. Nonetheless, we will still go out and spend money on who knows what in the meanwhile. However, all that stuff in the meanwhile doesn’t actually fill that hole of what we actually want.

Strangely, the minute you actually go and buy what you want, the thing that will make you happy, not only do you get that bit of happiness that has been awaiting in the background for so long, but you also lose the desire to fill that hole. In other words, you lose desire and you lose the need for attachment to that thing or any things you get to replace that thing.

The point is if you actually just go buy the thing you want from the get-go, in the end you’re going to have less stuff, and the stuff you do have is going to be the things that actually make you happy and bring you happiness. It’s a way of actually living in the moment and avoiding attachment to physical items. That seems very Zen to me.

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