On Gluttony, Excess and Consumerism

Photo: Christmas

I guess it may not be the smartest idea to begin this post by telling you that I am currently stuffing my face with alcohol-free rum balls, but it is 10:55pm on Christmas Day and I need something to keep me going.

The marketing material issued by department stores likes to tell us that Christmas is a time for family, for eating, for giving and receiving gifts. They seem to forget that the true meaning of Christmas represents the birth of new hope, charitable acts and (to an extent) giving. I think many of us have lost sight of what Christmas truly means, whether you are a celebrating Christian or not. It has become a time to drink yourself silly, undo all your nutrition and exercise work from previous weeks (or even months), demand things you do not truly need, and outdo others in the old game of “who can give a better present?” or “who can spend more money?”.

In my younger, teenager years I frequently felt disappointed on Christmas Day. This was mostly because I craved more gifts than I received, or craved different gifts to what were chosen for me by my family members (spoiler alert: Santa is not real!). I distinctly remember what would have been the Christmas of 2012, where my mother thought it would be a good idea to purchase a pack of RACV driving lessons for me. I hated it. There was no instant gratification, and it certainly was not something I could talk about or show off to my friends. In hindsight, I see how great of a gift it was. The large sum she spent on those driving lessons was what helped me learn how to feel confident behind the wheel, although I did not hop in the driver’s seat until ten months after Christmas. As I have grown older, I like to think I have mostly shed my insecurities about the way others perceive me. I do not measure my self worth in the goods that I own, and I no longer feel like I have to prove something to someone by buying expensive things. Over time, I have tried to request gifts around Christmastime that are things I know I will use, or things I genuinely need. For example, this year I was lucky enough to receive a GHD Platinum Styler. While this is considered to be the top-of-the-line GHD, it is also the first hair straightener I have received in ten years (yes, my old one has held up extremely well!) and I can only hope it will last me until my 30th birthday.

I have also found that my Christmases involve less agonising stomach aches than they did in the past. This year I consumed only one plate of food at Christmas lunch - not even a full plate - and stopped eating as soon as the hunger disappeared. The way people approach Christmas can be perplexing to me. It is as though they have never seen food before! How funny is it how us individuals living in developed countries can indulge in multiple meats and vegetables for one meal, spending so much time, energy and effort in producing it, yet our ancestors would have never dreamed of eating such a variety of food in one sitting! Not to mention the fact that we are all (statistically) overweight and unhealthy, while a large proportion of the world is still living below the poverty line - some of who are experiencing chronic hunger and malnutrition!

In buying Christmas gifts for others, I have tried focusing more on quality rather than quantity over the last few years. There seems to be a running gag where men around the world are upset by the fact that they seem to receive socks as gifts every Christmas. In actual fact, they should not complain so much. Socks are a wonderful gift. It is highly likely they will be used, and it is pretty hard to go wrong when buying them (unless the recipient is incredibly picky or has circulation problems). Other great gifts include quality skincare, items of clothing you know the recipient requires, or even experiences where people can get out of the house and try something new.

I think we tend to over estimate how many things we require to live. We keep building bigger houses, eating more food, acquiring more possessions…. for what? Do we purchase goods for others just to prove something to ourselves (like how we can afford said gift)? Do we give gifts in an effort to make ourselves feel better? Do we treat ourselves with some “retail therapy” only to fill a gaping void inside our souls? In actual fact, we have only cheated ourselves. The bigger houses require more furniture, more stuff to fill them, further perpetuating our tendency as a society to masterfully hoard items. The additional food, while perhaps being a real flavour experience at the time, only backfires on us later in the form of additional weight and other health issues that require us to stare down mortality (despite living in developed nations that have the highest life expectancies in the world?!?!?). The additional possessions, particularly technology and fashion items, become redundant so quickly - components change, designs come in and out of style - that we are scrambling to replace them on a rolling basis, forcing us to continue spending and collecting things. Like all faults of the human psyche, we are better off addressing the root of the problem to stop the negative corresponding behaviour.

A good place to begin is by asking yourself what items you truly need in life, and by asking the same of others. Once armed with this knowledge, follow through and act on it. Sometimes we let our own egos drive us when purchasing gifts for others. We think that by getting them X good, they will be impressed by how much money we have. Alternatively, some people may operate in a fashion where they believe they can demonstrate their appreciation or love for a person by showing up with an extremely lavish gift. This kind of display makes you wonder whether such people have ever actually verbalised their appreciation/love, or whether they are of the mentality that the item will say it for them. Unfortunately, shiny gift boxes do not have voices.

It is now 11:35pm on Christmas Day, and I think what I am asking is for people to practice a little more consideration and care. Be thoughtful in what you purchase and what you ask for. Try to avoid buying literal shit that will end up in landfill. Recognise that you do not need to keep stuffing yourself with food, or your home with things. If more people in the world cared as much about say, knowledge acquisition, as they did about luxury goods acquisition, the world may very well be a very different place….