We were sitting in the family room. My kids had finished their first day back at school after the holiday break, and my wife was working late. Michael, my six-year-old son, was finger knitting. Sarah, my eight-year-old, was knitting a scarf. I sat near them and folded clothes. Occasionally someone would share something that had happened during the day, but otherwise it was quiet.
And as we sat there doing our chores, I began to appreciate this time we were spending together. The orgy of presents, travel, and Christmas cookies was over. The routines and rhythms of the work week had begun again. My kids needed structure as badly as I did. We were getting it by being together in this quiet, simple way.
As I sat there folding clothes, I marveled at how little we really needed to be happy. It was quite enough to just be together as we did our work. Many of the gifts my kids received for Christmas were already put away. As often happens, there was a brief flurry of excitement when the gifts were first discovered. Shortly after, the thrill of ownership faded away. And while my kids may be too young to understand it, I'd like them to know that possessions don't really make them happy. When you live in a consumer-driven and materialistic society, it's just the message you receive. As author Christopher Lasch states, "A mass advertising culture creates consumers who are perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious, and bored."
I'd like my kids to know someday that the pursuit of possessions has made more people unhappy than happy, and that it actually ends up limiting their freedom of choice in the world. I'd like them to know that possessions can keep them focused on their own self-interest, rather than focusing on how they can benefit others. And I'd like them to know that one of the keys to a happy life is the pursuit of simple pleasures, which, in today's day and age, is an act of courage.
I thought about all of the possessions I had somewhere in the house. How many of them had I really used in the last 6 months? How many of them really had an impact on my life or made me happy beyond the first few minutes of receiving them?
Only a handful.
And as I sat there with my kids enjoying our time together, I sensed that more trips to the Goodwill were in order, as well as a greater commitment to simple living in our family. John Burroughs, the nineteenth-century naturalist, observed that "the number of things we can really make our own is limited. We cannot drink from the ocean be we ever so thirsty. A cup of water from the spring is all we need."
As parents in America today, we're often made to feel thirsty. We're made to feel as though we need to provide the latest gadgets for ourselves and for our children. And it seems that at the rate we're going, these gadgets will cost us most of our money and most of our time.
Don't be fooled. All that you and your kids really need is a "cup of water from the spring." It may not impress your neighbors, but it will help your family to feel happier.
It may even change your attitude about folding clothes!