As the Christmas holiday approaches and Thanksgiving is in our collective rear view mirrors one cannot turn on any device attached to the web, or any TV or radio, and not be bombarded by a myriad of commercials for all manner of materialistic items and services. Sadly, this has become the norm for these holidaze and we even have names for highlighted days involving supposed great sales such as ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’. More and more brick and mortar operations drag their employees in on Thanksgiving Eve, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve to insure they can make every possible sale. This is sad and is really an issue ‘we the People’ not only created but accelerated in scope by participating in such sale days. At the heart of all this is our perceived need to have things or services. Madison Avenue has done a yeoman’s job of convincing us we ‘need’ that new cell phone, new car, new clothes or similar even though we already have perfectly acceptable versions of all of the aforementioned and so many more items. And here is what I see as the crux of this entire conundrum; are we really purchasing things we ‘need’ or things we are told we ‘want’..?
By all reports this holiday season will be a record setter in terms of merchandise/services sold and I suppose this is good in terms of reflecting a much more robust economy after eight years of stagnant economic growth. But I also really wonder just how much of the goods and services purchased were truly needed as versed with just being wanted. Let’s start by defining these terms; I’ll use as my source for these definitions ‘Dictionary.com’. ‘Need’ is defined as; “a requirement, necessary duty or obligation”. ‘Want’ is defined as; “to feel a need or desire for; to wish for”. Hmmm, it appears the two terms are very closely related in terms of definitions even to the point that the definition of “want” employs the term “need”. But if one looks closer ‘want’ is more of an emotionally based tendency while ‘need’ seems to be more of a desire to fulfill a void or a gap in one’s existence. If we assume this is correct then it is easy to see why advertising seeks to create within all of us the ‘need’ to purchase goods and services. If we can be made to feel that by purchasing that new iPhone or wearable electronic device we are filling a perceived gap in our life we are much more likely to part with our hard earned cash.
A very simple means of helping us to decide whether we truly need an item or service or we just want it is to kill the ‘impulse purchase’ reaction. Before making any purchase one should stand back, try to be as objective as possible and ask one’s self; “Do I really need item X or service Y or am I just responding to the fact I like what I’m seeing and want to own it?”. Even better would be to take a full day to consider the pros and cons of making said purchase. Ancillary to this pause is another pertinent question one should ask; “Do I want/need item X or service Y or am I just considering the purchase to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ or to somehow reaffirm my social status?”. Asking these simple questions and being brutally honest with our answers would probably stop a majority of ‘impulse purchases’. And this is a large part of why so many sales tout a ‘limited time only’ window of opportunity or claim ‘purchase now while supplies last’. The provider doesn’t want you to think rationally and without a time constraint about making a purchase; they want you to ‘go with the feeling’.
If I were a conspiracy advocate, which I’m not, I could probably make a case for the cultural and social shift we’ve seen across the last fifty years in which everything – be it materialistic items, services and/or information – has to be available ‘right now’ is being fostered by large corporations intent upon selling their wares regardless of one’s needs or ability to finance. While I do believe this questionable change in our attitudes towards obtaining things ASAP is real I don’t think there’s any global conspiracy behind it. Rather, I see it as an outgrowth of our rapidly growing reliance on technology and the need it drives to be aware of as much as possible as soon as possible. Be this as it may, we the People are definitely being manipulated by Madison Avenue and similar; sadly most of us aren’t even aware this is ongoing. And that is just the way big business prefers to have it. As with so many other facets of our existence people who do not question the status quo and who lack basic training in thinking critically – a virtually epidemic now that our educational system is overrun with progressive idealism – remain blissfully unaware of the aforementioned manipulation.
At a time when personal debt is through the roof being very circumspect regarding making any purchase, regardless of size, would seem to be the order of the day. But if we fail to recognize our culture is ‘rigged’ to encourage us to buy, buy, buy whether we truly ‘need’ these items and services or not we are doomed to continue this path. It has taken me sixty plus years to finally recognize the difference between my wants and my needs on a personal level. And it was necessary, for me, to leave behind the frenetic pace of life in and around the lower 48 population centers and move to semi-rural south central Alaska before I really began to understand my wants verses my needs. Once my lifestyle slowed down and I began to focus on what I found to be the really important things in my life – family, friends, health, spiritual nourishment and giving back – I began to realize just how much stuff I had accumulated based upon me confusing my ‘wants’ for my ‘needs’. I suppose this is the classic case of ‘better late than never’..?! So as I embrace the ‘holidaze’ I find myself doing so from the perspective of ‘what can I do to help’ as versed with ‘what can I purchase for me’. This is very new and something I find I truly enjoy. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all..!!
Excellent posting Bill, I could not have written a better piece about the want/need equation happening around Christmas. You and I have been lucky to find out the difference and be able to change our ways, while as we can see the rest of the lower 48 is in its annual buying frenzy.
Crank up the stereo turn up the heat and sit back with the kids
and enjoy the Christmas season.
A-Men, Brother! Thanks for the kind words; I suppose I sound like an ‘old coot’ to many of the younger generation – and I suppose I am! – but I also have truly tired of the rampant materialism that has come to define the season. That’s Madison Avenue running amok and I hate it. At least, as you indicated, I can kick back up here and largely ignore such nonsense. Time for more steps; have a great one, Pete!
I agreed on so many levels. I used to hate Christmas. On one hand, I couldn’t afford to get my boys what the wanted and on the other, my mum would buy them anything they didn’t exactly want and everything they didn’t need.
Even now, after being in AK for a year, I am finding I really don’t need some of the things I purchased and am not sure that one thing I want is really needed. Crazy!
Hey Kris – As I age I’m really embracing the concept that ‘simpler is better’! I am downsizing my existence and I’d sure like to do a whole lot more of the same!!