Something has to be done about all the toys in my home. My four-year-old son, the firstborn grandchild on both sides of the family, has been showered with more knick-knacks, stuffed animals, action figures, and vehicles than properly belong in a full-blown day care center. It’s ridiculous, and set to get worse.
He now has a newborn baby brother, a fresh magnet for gifts on every holiday, birthday, and just-because. Between the two of them, I’m going to have to rent out a storage locker to keep from being displaced.
As problems go, having too many toys certainly falls into the First World category. Surely, there exist far too many children who never get much of anything. Nevertheless, as a father, I would sometimes prefer a bit of want if only to inculcate a sense of value in my son’s developing mind.
The worst part is not that he has been given so much, but that he consistently wants more. He has come to associate going to the store with an opportunity to get something new. When with me, such moments become lessons in browsing and delayed gratification. He can look all he wants, but won’t be taking anything home. Besides, where would he put it? His toy room – let’s just pause to consider the fact that we have a room dedicated to toys – looks like a store onto itself.
I recently considered whether my son might take new interest in his current toys if I stocked them on a store’s shelves. After all, is a new train really so much better than one he already has, or is the appeal in his not yet having it?
That may be normal for a child. Then again, it may be normal for the rest of us too. I like to think that, if I won a multi-million dollar lottery jackpot, I would manage the money well and make it work to earn more and not necessarily change my lifestyle. Sudden wealth would likely play out very differently. I have my own list of toys awaiting the means to indulge.
That proves particularly telling when I consider how my fourteen-year-old self would regard my current lifestyle. Just the technology alone would blow his 1993 mind. Smartphones? HD flat screens? IMAX 3D at every other theater around town? The only thing missing is a flying car. I own or have relatively cheap access to more than my younger self had the wherewithal to imagine. Yet, I could always go for more. Were money no object, I’d be looking to build a $4000 computer rig, and spend just as much on a laptop for schlepping around town, to say nothing of intangibles like travel and other forms of entertainment. And that’s before really applying my imagination. You can find a lot of ways to spend money once you’ve got it.
Just ask Sharon Tirabassi. She won ten million dollars nine years ago and now takes the bus to work. Her story models many others, all of which seem to demonstrate that having a lot of stuff does not necessarily lead to happiness.
Yet, the common sentiment that you cannot buy happiness risks oversimplification. The things we own do contribute to our happiness. Otherwise, we would not buy them. The lesson which my son must grasp, and I must also be reminded of, is that the things we own serve a limited purpose and cannot be relied upon for contentment. Achieving contentment proves a prerequisite to lasting happiness, and may be defined as accepting the sobering fact that you can never be entitled to more than you have earned. Perhaps that’s why a new toy always delivers greater satisfaction after you have worked hard and set aside to obtain it.
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