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A Meaningful Life Philosophy: Sponsored By… -- Writer’s Poke #343

Gary Ruskin and Juliet Schor’s “Every Nook and Cranny: The Dangerous Spread of Commercialized Culture” points out an interesting survey result. “In 2003,” they write, “the annual UCLA survey of incoming college freshman found that the number of students who said it was a very important or essential life goal to ‘develop a meaningful philosophy of life’ fell to an all-time low of 39 percent, while succeeding financially has increased to a 13-year high, at 74 percent.”

Why the disconnect here? Couldn’t “succeeding financially” be a “meaningful” reason for being? Apparently not, or at least UCLA students don’t recognize it as such.

So, we live to make money. Money itself has no value except for what it can buy. And what do we want to buy? Cars? Clothes? Electronics and Toys? A nice house? In other words, stuff. I like stuff, you like stuff, and we’ll work long and hard to earn enough money to buy the stuff we want. The secret “they” never tell you is this: Buying stuff is a no-win proposition. There is always more stuff to buy, and the drive to buy stuff will always outpace one’s ability to pay for it all. Even multimillionaires often times end up much further in debt than their means to remain financially liquid. How is that possible? Surely if you had 5 million dollars, you’d be set for life, yes? Well, if the multiple examples of others is any indication, no. The more money you have, the more expensive your tastes become. That’s all.

Many people probably crave stuff while also subscribing to the cliché that “money can’t buy happiness.” If we intuitively recognize that happiness is intangible and cannot be wrapped in pretty (and expensive) paper, decked with a bow, and placed under our Christmas tree, then why do we continue to buy more and more stuff? Is it because we haven’t developed a meaningful life philosophy? One which reminds us that true happiness comes from friendships and the life experiences we have that cannot be charged to our Discover cards?

Personally, I hate Christmas ads, especially ads by jewelry stores attempting to sell diamonds. Guys, if your special lady is only interested in you for your ability to buy her a diamond – or even worse, the name of the jewelry store printed on the box(!) – it might be time to reassess your relationship. Since when is the happiness of a relationship determined by one’s shopping prowess, anyway? I might be guilty of a lot of things, including typical American consumerism, but I won’t ever be guilty of buying my wife a diamond for Christmas (sorry, hon).

Lately, I’ve been thinking about motivation. What does it take to be highly motivated? Perhaps financial reward can be an external motivator, but I have to believe that a better, longer-lasting, and intrinsically-superior motivator has to be the development of a “meaningful life philosophy.” We can do things for money, or for what money can buy, but how much better would it to be to do the things we love simply for the enjoyment of doing them? After all, isn't this what “they” mean when they claim that “the best things in life are free”? Maybe now is the right time to explore that option, and forget about who has the latest iPhone or the biggest diamond in the fanciest name-branded box.

Develop a meaningful life philosophy.

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." -- George Bernard Shaw


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