Why we always want the next best thing

Dear Daughter,

I don’t know if it’s human nature or just American nature, but it seems that, when it comes to material possessions, we’re never satisfied. We could have the nicest, most luxurious items in the world, and yet we’ll always be on the search for something even better.

This became very real to me just last night. For about a year now, I’ve been wanting a Kindle, or some other type of e-reader. It’s funny because, being a die-hard fan of pen and paper, for a long time I was against e-readers. But eventually I came to appreciate their value and once I did, I really wanted one for myself. So finally I got one, just yesterday. It’s the least expensive Kindle on the market, but still, I was ecstatic to come home to it.

Until I saw the commercial.

While in the midst of downloading books onto my new toy, a TV commercial played about the new Kindle Fire, which is a bright, flashy, touch-screeny masterpiece of awesomeness. It has all the bells and whistles you could ever want in an e-reader. I looked down at the Kindle in my hand. Suddenly its gray screen and plastic buttons seemed dull, archaic. A voice whined in my head: Man, why couldn’t I have spent just a few more bucks for the Fire?

I finally owned the one thing I’ve been wanting for so long, and still it wasn’t good enough.

This is a common way of thinking, especially nowadays when everything gets an upgrade every six months. We’re constantly made to believe we should have the newest, coolest version of whatever product we own. We’re always striving to keep up with the Joneses, to keep throwing our money at these things simply so we can say we have the biggest, best and brightest. Because somehow that determines our worth. It makes us look smart, hip, better than everyone else. Only, in reality, it makes us fools. Because it won’t be long before we’re panicking about having the next biggest, best and brightest thing. And the cycle continues.

Daughter, it would behoove you to come to terms at a young age with the fact that these kinds of material items will never satisfy you, so you might as well appreciate what you do have. I’m not saying it’s bad to have a Kindle or iPad or whatever the “it” product is for your generation. Those things in and of themselves are good, useful resources that will likely enrich your life in some way. But they should not determine your self-worth, and you should not get wrapped up in the rat race of consumerism.

Whenever you have those moments when everything you own seems to be the second-rate version, try to change your perspective. Look at the many blessings you have in your life, like your family or friends, your passions or talents. Even look at the material items you do own and appreciate how fortunate you are to have them, while so many others in the world have nothing.

Be better than everyone else not by having the hottest product on the market, but by seeing the futility in having the hottest product on the market. Escape from the bondage of marketing and consumerism, and enjoy your life, just as it is.



Road Trip 2.0

Dear Daughter,

I’m sad to say that the art of conquering road trip boredom is a dying one.

This past weekend, we went on a mini vacation to Nashville, Tennessee. It took us 7 hours to drive there, which would have felt like an eternity when I was a kid, but to you it breezed by, thanks to the many electronic devices with which your generation has been spoiled blessed.

I took many a road trip when I was younger—twice-a-year, 13-hour drives to New Jersey in a conversion van. My siblings and I could write the book on how to keep busy during an agonizingly long trip: the license plate game, snack, car bingo, snack, the alphabet game, nap, snack, pull each other’s hair, snack…

Even though we became pros at keeping busy (and gained 10 pounds doing so), none of those activities were particularly satisfying. And it never failed that the last couple hours of the trip were like awaiting the release from prison. So close, yet so far away.

But for you, my dear, the road trip is just as enjoyable as an afternoon in your own living room. Via your PSP and my iPhone, you entertained yourself with movies and games, all while having free reign of the entire back seat. (See, there are benefits to being an only child.) Your generation has been given the gift of constant entertainment and, while I’m grateful not to have to hear the words “Are we there yet?”, this fact kind of makes me sad. You don’t have to use your creativity like we did when we were kids. You don’t have to suffer through hours of boredom, only to have a greater appreciation of your destination when it finally arrives. The phrase “the best things come to those who wait” does not apply to you in this situation because to you it doesn’t really feel like waiting; you’re just having fun.

In other words, these portable video games have taken the character-building aspect out of the road trip.

Perhaps for the next vacation, I’ll make a rule that no electronic devices are allowed. Car bingo, get ready to make a comeback…