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Consumed with consuming

Michael Walrond | 11/30/2011, 3:32 p.m.
Our economy recently experienced what some believe was a much needed boost thanks to Black...
Temper tantrums and handcuffs

Our economy recently experienced what some believe was a much needed boost thanks to Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday. Black Friday weekend, which includes the period from Thanksgiving to the following Sunday, reached a record in sales. According to the National Retail Federation, sales amounted to $52.4 billion, up 16 percent from $45 billion last year. Between Thursday and Sunday, reports suggest that a record 226 million consumers visited stores and shopped online, up from 212 million last year.

It is reported that between Thursday and Sunday, shoppers spent an average of $398.62 each. The record spending continued on Cyber Monday. A comScore survey reported that online sales in the United States for Cyber Monday were $1.25 billion, up 22 percent from 2010 sales. On Monday, online shoppers spent an average of $198.26, up 2.6 percent from 2010.

I am sure that there are those in the retail sector who feel a sense of relief, even if just temporarily, because of the record sales during the Thanksgiving season. In the past, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales have been indicators for the holiday shopping season. So, it goes without saying that retailers are eagerly anticipating the possibility of record sales during the remainder of this holiday season. I have to admit that I do not share the same excitement as some in the retail world. In fact, I am saddened, shocked and amazed by the Black Friday and Cyber Monday numbers this year. It is hard to imagine, that in some of the toughest economic times this country has faced in decades, that so many would be consumed with consuming.

In his book, "Being Consumed," William T. Cavanaugh writes: "Our relationships with products tend to be short-lived: Rather than hoarding treasured objects, consumers are characterized by a constant dissatisfaction with material goods. This dissatisfaction is what produces the restless pursuit of satisfaction in the form of something new. Consumerism is not so much about having more as it is about having something else; that's why it is not simply buying but shopping that is the heart of consumerism."

Cavanaugh believes that buying and shopping brings a temporary halt to the dissatisfaction and restlessness that typifies consumerism. This may be why consumers are always in pursuit of the next new thing, no matter how much has already been purchased.

If Cavanaugh is accurate-and I believe he is-it would suggest that people are seeking personal satisfaction through the acquisition of material goods. For some, the more they have, the better they feel about themselves. The problem with this is that new goods are constantly being produced, and if one is seeking satisfaction by buying the next new thing, then the cycle of dissatisfaction and restlessness seems endless.

This seemingly nonstop pursuit does not just reveal dissatisfaction with material goods, but I also believe it reveals dissatisfaction with one's self. There are so many who believe that their value is determined by the amount of material goods they possess. Truthfully, it is easy to slip into this way of thinking, especially when we are constantly being bombarded by ads, images and marketing campaigns that are designed to make us believe that happiness and self-esteem can be purchased.

How many people have gone into debt in an attempt to feel better about themselves, only to discover that the more they buy, the more they want? How many people have tried to shop their pain away, only to find out that after the money is spent, the pain still exists?

How much debt will it take for us to realize that we are more than what we wear, what we drive and how much money we spend? These are the questions that we must wrestle with if we are going to find personal meaning in the midst of a culture consumed with materialism and consumerism.