What if we valued joy?

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What if we valued joy?

We easily put values on our material possessions, and we want more. More and more and more. More stuff.  Why do so many of us (and, by ‘us’, I mean Americans and westerners in general) want so much stuff?  Why do some families have more cars than adults? Can you drive two cars at once?  Why do we throw out so much stuff, to replace it with more stuff, when the old stuff was perfectly good?

Do you need a new cell phone? A new car? A bigger house? Fancier clothes?

How does a fashion label help keep you warm?

There is a quotation (I can’t find the source)

To be content with little is difficult, to be content with much impossible

But why?

For one thing, many of us want what the other person has.  We want to ‘keep up with the Jones’.  Yet, we do not ask if the Jones are happy, if they are joyful, or if they are only busy keeping up with some other family…..

Relax.  You will never, not ever, have as much as Bill Gates.  Do you need it?

If you value your life by your possessions, by your net worth, then you will never be number one.  

Near the beginning of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, he writes that most schemes for the promotion of human happiness involved the movement of small green pieces of paper….he finds this odd because it was not the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.  

In ‘The Gods must be Crazy’ Jamie Uys tells what happens when an empty bottle of Coke drops from an airplane into a tribe of Bushmen.  This can’t be shared, since there is only one, and the tribe decides to drop the bottle off the edge of the world.

In one of his routines, Jackie Mason say “why do you need this? I don’t know”

How did we get into this mess? Somewhere, back before history, someone created something that couldn’t be shared.  But the situation is much worse in the USA (and other parts of the West) than it is elsewhere, and worse now than it has been before.  

What if we valued joy, instead?

What if the richest person was the one who had inspired the most smiles or caused the most laughs or alleviated the most pain or had the most joy?

Does driving a new car, or playing with a new computer, or what-have-you really bring you joy? More than, say, helping another person? Having a pillow fight with a child? Really?

All this stuff is not making us happy – depression is epidemic.  

How can we want less?

One thing – expose yourself to less.  Advertising is a massive scheme to make you believe you need things.  The biggest source of advertising is television.  So, turn off your television.  Give it away, or lock it in a closet.  In Harlan Ellison’s words, it is a “Glass Teat”.  There’s one less thing you have to buy, just to start: You don’t need a new TV.  

What else? Well, what makes you happy? What makes you feel good about yourself? A while back, the NYTimes ran a story about a woman in Mississippi, a very poor woman who lived by doing laundry for people, who made a fairly large gift to a university.  They later asked her what she thought about ‘self-esteem’ and so on, and she said that she thought that if people wanted to feel good about themselves, they should do things that made them proud of themselves.

well, I could babble on, but that’s my point.  By the way, I’m not claiming any special merit here – I am guilty of all this stuff-worship, too.  But I don’t really want to be.


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    • plf515 on February 24, 2008 at 22:35

    less stuff, more joy?

  1. When we list our “assets” we don’t bother to consider the myriad “intangible” ones.  We list the material ones: the house, the car, the savings account, etc.  We don’t list the “intangible” ones: the total number of joyful days we spent doing what we wanted to.  The number of times we were happy to help others.  The number of people we helped out.  The good deeds we did.  The time we spent listening to others.  The times we had wonderful conversations.  The things we learned from others.

    The list of the intangibles is huge and it varies from person to person.  When we consider our total “wealth” we stop at material things. That’s just a mistake.  It omit from our balance sheet things of real value.  And it leads to confusion and unhappiness.

    • kj on February 25, 2008 at 00:10

    An old friend calls it, “The Disease of More.”  :-\  Here’s an old favorite:

    To live content with small means,

    to seek elegance rather than luxury,

    and refinement rather than fashion,

    to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich,

    to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly,

    to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart,

    to bear all cheerfully,

    await occasions,

    hurry never–

    in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious,

    grow up through the common.

    This is to be my symphony.

    ~~William Ellery Channing

    from Earth Prayers

    • kj on February 25, 2008 at 00:16

    remember the tale about “Warm Fuzzies and Cold Pricklies”?


    I think when it really crashed in on me was the year I found myself buying rocks. Beautiful, yes. Even ‘organic’ ha. But I paid $$ for them! How inane is that?!

  2. of a fifteen month old grandson.

    A horse tagging my jacket asking for a treat.

    Trotting over fresh snowy fields.

    Trying to save people from their own stupidity.

  3. You make really good points here, and it’s true. Stuff doesn’t make you happy. I’ve been trying to cut down on stuff for years, but in this culture, it just piles up anyway.

    • sharon on February 25, 2008 at 04:30


    lovely essay, plf.

    • Edger on February 25, 2008 at 04:48

    It’s for the cat to sit on to look out the window.

    I don’t even know if it still turns on… 😉

  4. ( I don’t know how to embed video…sorry!)

    George Carlin on STUFF:


    …and thanks for the lovely diary.

  5. When you don’t have a lot of money and life is more about existence, the wanting comes pretty much to a halt.  That’s one aspect.

    The other aspect is that people are so deceived as to what constitutes happiness.  Well, let’s put it this way:  Whether you had an exquisite $1,000 chair to sit upon, or a minimally comfortable chair to sit upon, you might still find yourself unhappy in either “chair.”

    Happiness is not on the “outside” of us, it is within us — that is not to say that we live in a perpetual state of happiness, to the contrary, that happiness within can and is greatly disturbed by exterior forces, but our own monetary “acquisitions” are merely a faux placation to our inner happiness.

    Good thing we all understand that — now, everyone should be able to save a few pennies, and what the hell, the economy is so messed up already, it won’t matter that we are no longer consumers!

    • nocatz on February 25, 2008 at 05:46

    Dear viewers, seeing how this video has become hugely popular I think that is my duty to explain the whole situation.

    The first part of the video is happening in a store at Slavija square in Belgrade, Serbia at the time of the torching of a McDonalds restaurant near by, when I by accident recorded these two girls. Two hours later, at Terazije square, I recorded two other girls (“Jesi li nasla broj?”), and shortly after I ran into the blondes from earlier who were emptying a store in Sremska Street. Astonished by their persistence on getting new clothes on a 100% off sale, I decided to further record them.

  6. deepening recession. It will make people understand what is really important and it is NOT having a TV in every room, having an IPOD for each child or having heated and massaging seats in your car.

     When they are forced to cook together, to find ways to spend time together that do not cost money, then you will see people starting to understand and learn from each other again. Until then, not likely.  

    • Atticus on February 25, 2008 at 19:42

     Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

    Little we see in nature that is ours;

    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

    – William Wordsworth (1807)

    The getting and spending is DOING something, and there’s satisfaction in acting.  Then when the end result is less satisfactory, we need to act again and get rid of the extra stuff.  Busy, busy.  

  7. You’ve asked the most radical question that can be asked, on this blog or any other.  The proper valuation of joy would overturn the world–but it seems to require a leap in human consciousness that few are yet ready to make.

    • Edger on February 25, 2008 at 23:24

    • edgery on February 26, 2008 at 01:23

    Last week, I received some good news that would save me money.  It was really cold that evening after work, the wind was whipping by. I walked by the local Burger King and saw a man sitting inside, ragged gloves around a cup of hot water.  I’ve seen him in the area before; he’s homeless.  He always has a nod if you say hi.

    I walked in, bought a gift card, walked over and asked if I could join him.  Sure, he says.  And I told him about my good news, and that to celebrate I wanted to offer him the card. Turns out his name is Michael, we shared a bit of time together and I went off to catch my bus.

    As I walked out, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was someone else who’d been inside.  He just said thank you and smiled a big smile.

    The person who gave me the good news had no idea of the power of that joy.

  8. is because I want less and I want more:’

    Less – This region in Italy is made up of small mostly towms that are on hilltops or by the sea. Some get some tourists in the summer, most do not. A lot of people ride bikes not cars as in bicycles. When and if they need to go to the next town there is a bus or train. There is no traffic. There is no pollution. There is no noise at night except the occassional laughter from a pub or the ringing of a church bell. There are not many scammers waiting for you to let your quard down – like the city I live in now – Los Angeles – City of Broken Dreams.

    More – Le Marche was the birthplace of the renaissance. It is every where you look – completely unavoidable ageless beauty. It has survived since 300AD and witnessed many invasions and stands stall and well aged and proud. As I want to stand as I grow old. I don’t need stuff.Stuff has not made me joyfull. I want to live out my life in peace and beauty and to do it, to pick up and go will make me proud.

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