Don’t look for happiness under a Christmas tree

December 13, 2008 

Most of us heard about the 34-year-old Wal-Mart worker on Long Island who was killed as people stampeded into the store on Black Friday. Shoppers eager to obtain electronic goods and other items that were on sale trampled this man to death. Apparently other fights and injuries occurred elsewhere also.

The original meaning for the term Black Friday dates to September 24, 1869, the day the markets crashed following a failed attempt by some financiers to corner the gold market. It led to a depression. Sound familiar? More recently the term refers to the day after Thanksgiving in which retailers make enough sales to put themselves “into black ink” for the year. The day is extremely important to retailers, in other words, and hence they advertise sales that will bring in the buyers who will then buy other items as well.

So what is it that drives us to push and shove and even kill in order to buy an item that is on sale? I don’t think it is the bad economy that drove people to ignore this man. It may have played a small role, but I would wager that this kind of tragedy could happen during any Black Friday sale or any other sale throughout the year. We have all seen people sit out in the cold all night waiting to buy the latest electronic toy or ticket to a sporting event or concert. For some it is just fun. For others, sadly, it is a desperate search for happiness.

We are a very materialistic people. That is especially true in our own country. Having the latest electronic toy, the most expensive doll, a costly all-terrain vehicle, the biggest house, fanciest car or a host of other unnecessary items seems critical to many. We trade our cars when there are many miles left in them. We sell our houses to buy bigger houses we can’t afford and don’t need. And look where all this has gotten us.

These are items we like and want and which we believe will make us feel content. But we know that this so-called content is not real and does not last. It is really not even content in the true sense of the word. The dictionary defines content as desiring no more than what one has; satisfied.

We all know that a television can’t bring about that feeling. Not only will the item we stood in the cold waiting to buy be abandoned or ignored soon after purchase but we will move on to some other item looking for satisfaction. There is no object or person out there that will satisfy us and leave us feeling that we desire nothing more. We will always desire more — until we find joy and contentment within our own beings.

We all know folks who are very content in life, and many of them own very little. Their contentment and peace is not about things. It is about acceptance, letting go, living in the present moment, gratitude, compassion, giving, nature, love of people, passion, and for many it is faith in their God. It is not a television or car.

We tend to look in all the wrong places for joy when joy resides right within us if we would just stop, take a breath, get our bearings, put things in perspective, and be grateful for all we have.

As we move deeper into this holiday season, instead of spending money on things we can’t afford we might consider giving gifts from our heart — cookies baked at home, time together, food for the food pantry in town or just sitting around sharing memories.

We can live a long and happy life without a 50” television. We can’t live a long and happy life without inner peace.

Mary Friedel-Hunt, a freelance writer, publisher (Voice of the River Valley) and licensed clinical social worker, has been a psychotherapist for 32 years.

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