Shopping Our Way to Happiness

Friends are fickle. Family is unreliable. But shopping – now that’s something we can all count on to raise our collective Holiday Spirit. This was the primary message of hope we heard during Thanksgiving, which has gradually morphed into a two-day bacchanal. (Day One, Thanksgiving Thursday, features food and football. Day Two, Black Friday, features standing in lines and buying things.) In recent years, a period in which overconsumption has become a symbolic form of American art, the second part of the two-day holiday has threatened to overtake the first part in cultural importance. Indeed, in many places Friday is now beginning at 10PM on Thursday.

Here’s how someone the Los Angeles Times identified as a “retail expert” explained early reports that shoppers were “in a frenzy” of spending: “People have had so many years of recession that they want to spend money and feel good about themselves.”

Having seen several television advertisements for diamond retailers, we understand. When you (a man) buy a diamond and give it to a lady, she’ll open the velvet jewel box and look at you with a flash of ecstatic affection that you might mistakenly interpret as animal lust if not for the sheer love radiating from her glistening eyes. (Same thing happens when you present her a Lexus with a giant red bow tied on the roof.) Damn right shopping makes you feel good about yourself!

In the dark days following the 9/11 attacks, our dear President Bush encouraged us to keep shopping. We’ve been sticking it to the terrorists ever since, one credit card at a time. Sure, some of us patriots, like the woman at a Wal-Mart near Los Angeles who reportedly pepper sprayed a fellow shopper, get carried away by the call to duty. That’s OK. So long as enough of us emerge from the combat zone with a marked-down copy of “Call of Duty,” America will be just fine.

Can you put a price on happiness? When it comes to Black Friday, you can. One couple interviewed by the Times said that they had been camped outside their local Best Buy since Tuesday afternoon in anticipation of Black Friday, when all the giving thanks stuff would be over and the shopping could commence — at a large discount. They were hoping to be one of the fortunate few who would be let in early enough to take advantage of an amazing deal: a 42” flat screen that normally goes for $499 marked down to $199! That’s a $300 savings, for those without a calculator handy. And it only required a 50-hour-or-so investment of time. How wonderful to buy yourself some happiness and get paid $6-an-hour to sleep on a sidewalk like the less fortunate (and less happy?) among us.

We’re often told that time is money. If that’s so, certain consumers among us have figured out how to convert excess inventory of useless time into useful cash-money bonuses. Surely there’s a formula here to lift America out of its economic and emotional malaise, and scientists would like very much to figure it all out — when they get a grant large enough to warrant spending the time it will take to conduct a study.

In the interim, we ought to do the safe thing: keep buying. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for our sex life. And it might even be good for the soul.

Existing in a state of gratitude has its good points, too.  But inner peace never got anyone a diamond.

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2 Responses

  1. Brian M says:

    Fill hole with things; get more money; get more things; fill hole with things; get more money; refill. Then repeat.

  2. sst says:

    The Beatles said money can’t buy you love, but we keep tyrying!

    Good essay, MK.