Less is More

| 9/23/2014 4:05:00 PM

Family in car

Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and "unusual" social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website.

Hi Tim,
I'm 33, married with 2 children, 5 and 6. We are all in good health. I'm finished with graduate school and 5 years into a successful career with a good salary. My wife has a successful career too and we have both worked hard to get here. But none of it seems to mean anything. We're about to move to a bigger house in a showier neighborhood. We each just bought new luxury cars. We will be taking the family to Disney World soon. Family and friends say we look perfect.

It isn't all perfect. We all have our faces buried in screens most of the time we're at home or in the car and barely talk to each other. My kids are spoiled and tend to throw tantrums when they don't get something they want. None of what we acquire feels like it means anything. But we don't seem like we want to change, either. How does one know when one is happy and successful? — Full of Empty

Hi Full of Empty,
It is promising that you are questioning your motivations. You have not exactly been shopping this whole time, either. At least, you did not mention a trust fund, lottery ticket or other windfall. While busy finishing graduate school, working and raising kids, it might be perfectly normal to double-down when looking for security, safety, comfort and even leisure, and miss the exact moment when we began to self-treat excessively, confuse necessities with luxuries and get carried away. Conspicuous consumption can give way to or be passed on as invidious consumption, where the purpose of flaunting wealth means nothing more than provoking envy. You do not want your children to grow up identifying themselves this way and this is good insight on your part.

We do not need the latest, most popular gadgets and technologies or a certain brand of car, home, clothes or vacation. If you feel the need to double down, invest in something like retirement or college funds. Explore the functionality of the items you purchase and you will see that far less will be more than enough for just as long. The less importance you place on material things and mere amusements, the more likely it is that you will have increasingly meaningful time and experiences with the people you love, learn more and experience less stress. Your body and mind will eventually thank you.

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