The Single Most Powerful Antidote to Our Consumer Culture

Every day of our lives, we are the unwitting recipients of countless messages designed to foster discontentment. And they work really well, convincing us that we need something more in order to be happy. In order to be worthy of love or respect.

According to one study, more than 60 percent of us always have something in mind that we look forward to buying. That’s what makes the following words seem so out of synch with our daily experience.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8

What? Content with only food and clothing? Why, that’s downright un-American! Or so it seems. But do you know what else it is? It’s liberating.

Driving toward contentment

A couple of years ago, my wife and I decided to give away one of our cars. It needed a cost prohibitive repair, so we gave it to a ministry that fixes cars and then gives them to needy families. The car had 165,000 miles on it and a number of dents. It had been hit a couple of times while parked in our former neighborhood in Chicago. A tree branch even fell on it once, denting the roof. Because of its high mileage, we never bothered to fix the dents.

When I was working in corporate America, I would drive into the parking lot of my office building and pass lots of new cars. Driving that old car gave me frequent opportunities to practice contentment, and there were definitely days when I needed extra practice!

We could all use a little more practice giving thanks, especially when gratitude isn’t the first emotion on our heart or in our mind.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

What helped me was reminding myself why we were avoiding the temptation to buy a nicer car. Having a paid-off car gave us the financial freedom to build savings targeted toward being able to leave my corporate job one day to write and speak full-time—something my wife and I both felt was the direction God was leading us. The more I dwelled on that bigger purpose, the more thankful I felt.

In the process, I saw firsthand that gratitude drives contentment and serves as a powerful antidote to our culture’s constant encouragement to want something more.

Instead of always having something in mind that we look forward to buying, what if we always had something in mind that we were thankful for?

What are you thankful for? And if you really want to challenge yourself, think of something you own that you’re eager to replace. Try to find something about that to be thankful for. What comes to mind? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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2 Responses to The Single Most Powerful Antidote to Our Consumer Culture

  1. Paul D August 23, 2016 at 7:50 PM #

    Just four months ago I replaced a car that was almost 26 years old. One day my daughter remarked as we were in her school parking lot “I think we have the oldest car”. I’m sure she was right, and it didn’t bother me a bit. I was able to do a lot of the work on it myself and it was very reliable. It became hard to find parts for, and we had saved up enough to buy a newer car with cash, so we replaced it. I cringe to think of all the money people spend on new cars and financing them. Needs versus wants.

    • Matt Bell August 24, 2016 at 8:01 AM #

      Paul – Our kids sometimes point out that our van is the only one they know of where the doors don’t open or close automatically, so I can relate. 🙂

      There’s a lot of pressure to spend that’s just woven into the fabric of our daily lives. One of the most powerful forces is planned obsolescence, which is usually about rapidly changing styles or product features.

      I’m not opposed to buying new or nice things. I just want all of us to be proactive instead of reactive to the culture, consciously making choices that might mean keeping things beyond the latest style change in order to live generously, save and invest wisely, and maintain some financial margin.

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