“Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.” - Elise Boulding
The above words by Elise Boulding have a very deep and spiritual meaning to me. The very core of our capitalism here in the U.S. is about having things. Without our constant desire to have more than we have our very way of life would be threatened. Not many people outside the Friends Society know much about Elise Boulding so I thought I would include a few words from Wikipedia about her.
Elise M. Boulding (July 6, 1920 – June 24, 2010) was a Quaker sociologist, and author credited as a major contributor to creating the academic discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies. Her holistic, multidimensional approach to peace research sets her apart as an important scholar and activist in multiple fields. Her written works span several decades and range from discussion of family as a foundation for peace, to Quaker spirituality to reinventing the international “global culture”. Particularly of note is her emphasis on women and family in the peace process.
I discovered some of her writing before I realized she was a Quaker but after learning that I was not at all surprised. Peace and simplicity are two of the foundational items with Society of Friends. But, let’s get back to the words for today.
Divorcing your happiness from having things is a life changing event. “Stuff” most often gets in the way of happiness instead of fulfilling it. There is a happiness in not having things that, until you discover it, makes no sense at all.
- How can you be happy when you see your neighbor driving around in the latest greatest car. Don’t you deserve it as well as he does?
- You watch all those home improvement shows on cable and you are unhappy because your kitchen doesn’t have the absolutely necessary trio: granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and cherry cabinets.
- You are unhappy because your teeth are not as white as you see on TV. Yellowish teeth make you very unhappy.
This list could go on and on.
Henry David Thoreau had a thing or two to say about how things clutter our lives in the famous novel “Walden”. If you want to see how to have joy in the simple things read his words. There is so much around us today to make us unhappy if we don’t divorce that word from material possessions. If you really want to be happy learn the happiness of not having things….
“Stuff” has been on my mind lately so I pulled out a November 2008 blog post on one of my other blogs and re-posted it below. I am in the process of cleaning out my barn and it is loaded with stuff (shame on me!!). Sometimes I would just like to throw it all away and start over again; maybe this time I could refrain from the temptation of accumulating it all over again. But I kind of doubt it.
Ok this maybe anti-American but Jesus was definitely anti-stuff. When Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the Word he told them to take nothing with them. They weren’t even allow to take and extra pair of sandals for their long walk and they did a lot of walking in those days! And then remember the rich man who approached Jesus to learn how to get to heaven. That ended up with Jesus telling him to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor and then follow Jesus and his ragtag team. Of course the rich man, as most of us today, could not even conceive of doing that. He just went away rejected.
We, especially in the United States, are totally addicted to our “stuff”. Of course being a capitalist country our whole economy depends on all of us buying more and more “stuff” each year. It’s not good enough to just buy the same amount as we bought last year; we have to always buy more.
If we fill our house with “stuff” then there is always the garage. If even the garage is full then how about off-site storage which is one of the few remaining growth industries. Or now we can even have our storage unit brought to us for filling up (PODS). If we run out of money to buy our “stuff” there is always another credit card offer in the mail. Let’s face it buying “stuff” is a vicious cycle that is difficult to break
Getting back to the rich man as mentioned above, many Christians now rationalize that to be just a story and not what Jesus really intendeds for us to do. From my studies of early Christianity that was definitely not the case with them. For at least the first few hundred years many, if not most, affluent people really did sell everything when they started following Jesus. I’m not sure exactly when this practice fell out of the favor but I expect it was around the time that Constantine made Christianity a State religion. I think we need to give up some “stuff” and then revisit the practice of giving to the less fortunate than us? But of course we could never go all the way as Jesus mentioned. The apostle John made the following statement in 1John.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.
Let’s put these word in today’s lingo or at least what I perceive it to be. John says you have to back what you say with actions or the words are meaningless. To me John is flatly saying that if you have faith in Jesus then you WILL do these things. That gets us into a much deeper subject of “works vs. faith” which I will tackle in a future postings. For now, let’s buy less “stuff” and help our less fortunate brothers a little more.