Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our Insatiable Appetite for More

We have a perfectly suitable television that sits above our fireplace.  It's proportionally appropriate and serves the viewing needs of our family well.  Every few months I battle the staggering desire to buy the beast, the behemoth screen that will overwhelm my senses and offer life-size action.  We don't need it, but everything around me and inside of me screams that a bigger TV could, in some way, make my life better.  However, if I were to impulse buy, we would be making a purchase we couldn't afford and likely sacrificing something that would serve our family better (although it's difficult to imagine what that could be).

We are a nation that loves the big.  The bigger the better.  'Go big or go home' is a famous mantra.  Reality TV is riddled with 'can-you-eat-this-much' challenges.  On July 4, I watched the Coney Island Hot Day Eating Contest with my children.  It was difficult for me to explain to them why the contest was unhealthy and wasteful, yet throngs of people cheered them on (and I was mesmerized).  The sponsoring company of the contest did donate a truck load of food to the local food bank, so there was some altruism to counterbalance the waste.

A recent study noted average home sizes around the world for newly constructed units since 2003.  Ireland, Spain, and France came in around 1,000 square feet.  The United States led the way with an average home size of 2,300 square feet.  In spite of the greatest wave of bank defaults and house foreclosures in history, we continue to build the largest homes in the world.

Alongside our big homes, we like big cars.  To the end of protecting the environment, the small-car craze is sweeping Asia and Europe.  A leading anthropologist says that the United States' love for the big, gas-guzzling SUV will prevent us from following suit.  According to the article, the big vehicle speaks to our identify as a person offering a sense of power and control that is deeply ingrained in our psyche.  The vehicle buying decision is not always driven by affordability or transportation needs, but rather what we believe the vehicle says about us.  The alluring big offers perceived power without regard to practicality.

It's well noted that Americans love to super size our food as well.  A new study concludes that the obesity epidemic in American is largely driven by over-consumption.  The researcher states that to return to the average weights of the 1970s, we'd need to reduce our daily caloric intake by about 350 calories per day for children (one can of soda) and 500 calories for adults (one hamburger).  The study recognizes the significance of  physical activity and other variables, but argues that public policy should be shifted toward encouraging people to eat less, to stop going big.

In addition to our big homes, big cars, and big meals, we are trending toward capacity-busting schedules as well.   In most communities, an all-you-can-fit-into-your-schedule buffet of activity options exist for children.  Many are great opportunities for youth development.  And my generation is full of parents wanting to be everything to everyone, including our children.  Again, bigger isn't always better.  The potential negative effects of over-scheduled kids has been documented and debated. Recently, the potential negative effects of over-scheduled kids on parents has been exposed as well.  Parents, trying to give their children experience-rich environments, are in danger of adding time, financial, and expectation stress to their own lives.  And children are mirroring their parents stress.   Relationally-rich environments may be the better alternative. 

The YMCA of the USA states that healthy homes are built on 5 pillars.  They include eating healthy, playing everyday, getting together (particularly one-on-one time), going outside, and sleeping well.  It's notable that each of these pillars can be built at low or no cost, include a relational component, and have nothing to do with going bigger or extreme. 

My pastor friend says that our country has this insatiable appetite for more.  It's a gnawing deep within us that hungers for the big.  Ironically, our habits of over-indulgence do little to fill this desire.  This soul-deep clamoring for more is met in the simple, the antithesis of big.

A thankful heart is one antidote to our addiction to big.  Ann Voskamp says, "... real men let go of self-sufficiency and know it's all pure grace and pull it straight out into lifestyle, wholesale thanksgiving."   

A peaceful center pushes back the pursuit of the big.  A pastor's wife, recently reminded me of this.  "Rest," she posted on Facebook, "doesn't mean an absence of activity! It is understanding the Peace comes from the inside out -- fixing our eyes on God and leaning into [Him]"

Simplicity casts off the weight of the big as well.  In Walden, Thoreau speaks to this.  "It is desirable that a man live in all respects so simply and preparedly that if an enemy take the town.... he can walk out the gate empty-handed and without anxiety."  Leo Barbauta concurs.  "Each day is a journey, and we load ourselves up with material possessions, with tasks and projects, with things to read and write, with meetings and calls and texts.  [The big].  Our hands are full, not ready for anything new.  Drop everything... enter each day empty-handed, and full-hearted." 

I'll continue to battle the urge to buy the bigger TV.  And, on a good day, I'll work to say no to the advertisers and yes to the blessings all around, each so extravagantly simple.