The American Religion at Christmas - Consumerism

I was watching the news Thanksgiving night. The reporter was outside Target and Best Buy interviewing soon-to-be shoppers, camped out in their tents for the night. They wanted to be the first people in line at 4am when the stores opened for Black Friday.

The next day I watched a brief interview with a Buddhist scholar. He stated that the unifying religion of America is consumerism.

And the following day at a tasty home-made brunch, I had an insightful conversation with an elementary school teacher and mother about the values of materialism she witnesses at a young age.

Although the link between consumerism and my work in relationships and sex may not be immediately apparent, I think the values, priorities, and escapism are intimately linked. As a nation we strive to acquire more possessions. Shopping when we feel down is called “retail therapy.” After September 11 we were instructed to be good Americans or good New Yorkers by buying more things and spending more money.

This focus on the superficial keeps us constantly striving to fill a void that can never be satisfied in such a way. There is always more to want. There is always a reason to seek out a new (i.e., younger, wilder, richer) partner through the grass is greener lens. There is always something stimulating to distract us from uncomfortable emotions and difficult personal growth. This can keep us diverted from the present moment and the relationships we could be nurturing.

If I can offer one suggestion during this holiday season, it is to question what makes you happy, and how you can strive for a depth of fulfillment in your life and your relationships. At the end of our lives, I really do believe it is the quality of the deep connections we had with others that truly matters. So where can you make a shift this December from spending money to spending quality time? How can you be creative with your gift-giving, and give the gift of joyful presence? Who can you positively impact with the generosity of your energy and beautiful spirit? Perhaps it could be a friend, partner, parent, sibling, neighbor, or child. I think any shift in perspective here will reduce the focus on stress, money, and possessions, and redirect to lasting feel-good connections.

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling in San Diego