We Need Debbie Downer

The best things in life are free.

We all need this reminder (especially in America).

However cheesy, however cliché it may be- the most loving, genuine, and kind moments are often (to the chagrin of marketers) completely priceless.

The self-help industry makes so much money because toxic consumerism (among other things) drives people into depression, anxiety, and misinformed patterns of thought. Example: “I will not be happy until I purchase x,” is a mental pattern that is reinforced every time you purchase “x.” You reinforce a pattern of scarcity, need, and wish fulfillment in objects when living and purchasing with this mentality.

Every time you turn on the TV or listen to the radio you hear, “You’re sick? Buy this!” or, “Feeling down? Pop this pill!” We never hear, “Turn off the TV and read a book,” or “Be nice to the person who rings up your groceries today.” And, we rarely hear, “Thousands of people gave their lives in wars so you could have the freedom to be bored.” Why don’t we hear these messages? Simply put, nobody makes a dime off breeding a respectful, self-sufficient public.

One of the most challenging problems our culture faces is not the fact that marketing exists- after all, nobody can deny the security or opportunities financial success can bring. The problem is, however, that we are so inundated with messages telling us that we are not enough, that we need something outside of ourselves to feel complete, that we are ill equipped to handle life without the paid services of an industry that benefits from our lack of confidence.

Unfortunately, nobody wants to be told that they’ve been duped. Nobody wants to believe that the $29.99 they just spent on expensive shampoo is actually destroying the health of their scalp and they should probably switch to something simple, organic, and free of toxic ingredients. Nobody wants to be told that the by-products of their pharmaceutical medication end up in our water supply. Nobody wants to hear that their favorite face-wash is full of tiny, plastic beads that become fish food (and then, we eat the fish). Nobody wants to hear that their expensive laundry soap actually destroys wild ocean habitats. Nobody wants to hear that the t-shirt upon which they just spent their hard-earned money was sewn together by a 4-year old who only sees 30 minutes of sunlight a day in Cambodia.

What’s more, because there is no fiscal gain to be made from giving humans this information, it exists only for those who seek it out. Often times, the seekers return to share the truth with the masses only to be outcast, ruled “unpleasant” or even deemed crazy by his or her peers. And sure, the aforementioned thoughts are generally unpleasant, awful thoughts to entertain. What’s more awful is that we directly participate in the continuance of these maladaptive practices by being misinformed consumers. But, we’d rather be happy we got a new iPhone as a gift than think about the fact that many Apple employees in China would rather commit suicide than continue working to manufacture our “selfie” toys. Alas, we in the first world would rather discuss our latest Bumble date than the fact that our smart-phone came at the death of somebody’s father.

Cue: Debbie Downer. She is here. But, she is our friend, because she can also teach us how to live better, more mindful lives.

The best things in life really are free. When you are kind to your car service technician, when you ask the 7/11 guy how his day is going, and really listen to his answer, when you are kind at 6pm on the freeway to the person trying to merge into your lane, you are actively choosing to create peace and connection between humans. You stop competing and realize that we really are in the same boat here, and that being kind costs nothing at all.

Your actions immediately impact everybody in your field of awareness. The waiter you treated with respect goes home to his newborn son and girlfriend and is happy to help when the baby wakes in the middle of the night. The well-rested mother, grateful that her happy boyfriend took such good care of their child, shows more patience to her clients at work the next day (let’s say she’s a nurse practitioner). One of her patients, so humbled by being treated with such dignity by her NP, brings warmth and vibrancy when speaking with the gentleman working at the gas station. He feels respected and valued after this interaction, and he goes home to give his husband the love and attention he’s wanted for weeks. We are all in this together, making active choices to either be kind to one another or greedy in our belief that we must compete to survive.

Opponents of my argument may cite Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest” as reason to be more cunning, competitive, and divisive when interacting with strangers. But what if the fittest that survive are the people who are gracious in their interactions, the people who have a community of others who love and support them for no other reason than they are nice every time they communicate? Proponents of the Law of Karma will agree with me, saying that all action is simply energy, and if we are to pass on positive, compassionate energy, it will only return to us tenfold.

And so, this holiday season (and new year), I hope we can all remember how important our choices are. I’m not encouraging anybody to abandon gift giving or donate all his clothes to live in a van down by the river- rather, I encourage us all to remember what really matters in life. Try to look at each person with the same openness as you do with the people you most love. Remember that nobody in this life lives without pain, loss, or trauma of some kind. Even if your kind energy isn’t immediate reciprocated, somebody may have been watching you from a distance and end up positively affected anyhow.

You likely have all you need already. You are enough without buying the latest pair of Adidas shoes. Try to remember that when advertisements remind you of all the things you aren’t. Because, if you have everything you need, they can’t take any more of your time, energy, or money.

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