Monday, March 14, 2011

The Haves, The Have-Nots and The Have-Not-Muches

Since coming home I've been swamped with lust for material things.  I don't know if it's the much more prevalent product placement, the fact that I watch (a little bit of) TV again or masterful marketing aimed at my demographic, but I find myself suddenly wanting everything, like this, this and this.  And, oh Cosmos, especially this!

I've always been very unabashedly materialistic. It's hardly surprising, though; I was raised by my mother, bonafide Material Girl, who is heavily influenced by my grandmother, Retro Material Girl.

I grew up on stories about how my grandmother used to shop at all the top department stores in Hong Kong back in the day, like Lane Crawford, and get first class treatment. They knew her by name, knew all her preferences and always promptly brought tea service (with all imported products only, thank you very much) to her as soon as she walked into the store.

She had a 3 day wedding and wore 9 different outfits - each one was handmade and custom-designed and cost as much as the monthly salary of a servant. She wore Max Factor on her wedding day, which was the top makeup brand availabe in Hong Kong at the time, and they served palm-sized abalones at their wedding reception.

My grandpa also is a bit of a Material Guy. Raised in a wealthy family, he grew up having servants who catered to his every whim, so he was and still is a bit high-maintenance. A sports aficionado, he also used to walk into the sporting department of top department stores and say things like, "I need new tennis supplies. Bring me the most expensive one of everything."

So it's no surprise, really, that I grew up to have a real fondness for material things. (I just had a flashback of me doing enthusiastic fist pumps to gleeful exclamations of "THINGS!" in my former sorority house - moments I'm not proud of, during a period of my life I call my own Lost Weekend.)

But then living in Europe - particularly Spain - totally changed me. It was like living on a different plane of existence.

I only had 4 months to earn enough money to live on for 6 months in Europe, and I insisted on doing it all by myself without any help, so I had a very tight and meagre budget to live on to begin with. But more than that, living simply is a way of life in Spain. There, it's not about the things you buy, but the quality time you spend with your family and friends. Things just don't matter as much.

I had no extra money in Spain, so when I was there, I was able to very objectively walk into stores, admire all the products, and then I was content to walk out again without buying anything. Entertainment was also cheap - food was cheap and I could perfectly entertain myself simply by wandering around new neighbourhoods and admiring the architecture.

But now that I'm home in Canada, where I'm earning more than double the money at a generic office job than a (for lack of a better term) "proper, career-building, entry-level position" in Spain, I find myself wanting a lot more things. More than wanting, there's a sense of need for all these material things that I got by without just fine before.  I think it's because I feel like I'm in a position to be able to afford more things, to have more.

Consequently, I feel a lot more dissatified than I ever was in Spain, when I was as poor as it was possible to be without being homeless, because I'm actually making beans now - my pay is really, really low - so everything I want is *just* out of my reach. I want everything and I can't have it. In Spain, I didn't necessarily feel like I wanted extra things and I didn't need it, and I was fine.

How much does happiness cost?  Does a person really need a lot of money to be happy?  How much money = financial security?

No comments: