Maybe that’s why Brother and Sister Bear got the gimmies. Or maybe it was because there were treats, toys, and fun things to do wherever they looked–at the supermarket, at the mall, on TV, and just about every which-where. (from The Berentain Bears Get The Gimmies by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain)
The kids are napping, the dishwasher is whirring, the washing machine is agitating, and I’m taking a break from the sewing machine so I pull up Hulu.com to catch up on my favorite shows. I could be doing other things. The floor needs vacuuming but the kids are sleeping and I don’t have one of those really quiet and awesome robotic vacuum cleaners. I wish.
“This hulu program is brought to you with limited commercial interruptions by ________,” I hear announcer guy’s voice say.” I click the mouse to adjust the volume. The commercial plays and across the top of the screen a question: Is this ad relevant to you? I click No, because it is a commercial for perfume and besides the fact that I don’t wear perfume, I hate fragrance commercials. I just don’t understand why the pretty people are always running through fields and making out with small glass bottles of fragrance or standing mostly nude in the ocean looking fierce. As the commercial plays out, I pour myself a cold glass of water from the office style water cooler in the kitchen and grab myself a snack.
I laugh at the antics of the Dunder Mifflin employees or the parks department staff and when another commercial comes on, I’m curious to see if Hulu has changed gears now that they know I don’t want to see fragrance ads. Make up. Expensive brand. Silly, I think. I wouldn’t pay that much for make up. That’s ridiculous. What is the matter with us here in this country that we think it’s acceptable to pay that much for cosmetics? But, oh, okay, well it’s on sale. Oh, and it comes with a free gift. Ooooh, tempting. Fat lipstick pencils–what a great idea!–and I do like that color…and that one! I can’t even remember the last time I bought any make up and I do make it last for a really long time, so when you divide it out by the number of months I’ll use it, it’s really not that pricey. And I could use that free gift for a Christmas present for someone. Okay, who should I give that to? “Is this ad relevant to you?” Hulu wants to know. And I stop my crazy thoughts. I really don’t need fat lipstick pencils. I have a drawer full of make up options in the bathroom and I usually end up wearing the same stuff every day anyway. My Christmas gift list is made. I don’t need a free gift for anyone else. This ad is NOT working on me, I want to tell Hulu. But the truth is, it almost did. It was relevant for me.
Amazon knows me well. They suggest things I might like and I agree with them. Deal sites. Need I say more? I mean, I’m not looking for new shoes, but if the deal site has Vibram fivefingers on sale half off, I might as well see if they have my size! When I shop at Target and use my debit card, they track my purchases, learn my preferences, and the cash register prints out coupons for things they already know my family uses. It’s almost creepy, the way the “ad experience” as it’s now known, is tailored to each consumer.
I don’t want to be a consumer before I am a citizen. I want the ads to not be so relevant to me. But they are. The problem is this: I have the gimmies.
I want a robot vacuum cleaner. I want a food processor. I want cookie cutters that can spell out any message I want. I want Christopher Radko Christmas ornaments. I want Vibrams in black. I want a pretty cabinet to hide my TV in. I want books. Want, want, want. Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie.
It’s exactly what I want my children to be free from. But can I be free myself? When there are treats, toys, and fun things to do everywhere I look, can I instead learn to look within, to face up to my discontent once and for all? I believe there are a couple of ways to handle discontent. One is to feed it with one product after another than promises to make my life easier and happier and better, to chase that dangling carrot one step at at time into a place of exhaustion and even deeper discontent. Another way is to starve it with gratitude, with the blazing truth that I already have everything I need, that every problem I have is a first world problem, and that less sometimes really is more. If I feed discontent, it will surely grow until it is bloated. If I starve it with gratitude, my hope is that is will someday disappear.
So I’m grateful for the clothes we have and the machine that washes them with so little effort on my part. I am thankful for the food we easily afford, the dishes we eat it on, and the machine that cleans those as well. I am thankful for the break in my day that is nap time and a television comedy. I really have more than enough. And isn’t that the very definition of abundance? Wouldn’t it be foolish to live in abundance and choose to remain discontent? I choose contentment. I hope I can teach my children to choose it. I hope that one day I can answer no to Hulu every time they ask me, “Is this ad relevant to you?” No, I am content. No, I have enough. No, I know the difference between a want and a need and advertising professionals cannot make me confuse them. No.