The Common Good

Don't Scurry, Be Happy

Economists are telling us that people are not spending enough money this Holiday time and thus our economy will suffer. I am reminded of the president's urging after 9/11, to go out and spend money, buy things as the way to make things better. I can't believe we fall for this false assumption of economic well-being: buying things, or things themselves, will bring happiness.

A consultant in community building was invited by the South Korean government, saying, "We have money and things, but we are not happy." Bill McKibben in Deep Economy indicates the US is producing more, has higher economic incomes and more things than ever before, but we are no happier or satisfied. There is a growing dissatisfaction with all the things, a deep longing for community. Some people are shifting their priorities, working less and spending more time with family and friends.

Bishop Robinson of England, in his 1980's book, Enough is Enough, called us to a "joyful revolution" of people over things, of time spent in community and making a difference over the work-and-spend treadmill. He suggested three maxims to remember as we look at ads, walk through stores, are tempted to add a few more things to our bounty:

  1. Who are you kidding?
  2. You can't take it with you.
  3. The price is too high.

In this season when we wish people Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, and seek to create some of that happiness in our families and communities, may we prioritize actions that create and sustain life, family and community.

Mary Nelson is president emeritus of Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. She is also a board member of Sojourners.

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