Although I was once told I kiss like a frog, I wouldn’t want to be one. Still, when I think of their simple life in their plastic water-filled cube, I’m reminded of how little I need. Sure, there is no end to the things I want, but the things I need are quite few. Now that I have lived in the same house for about seven years, I’ve begun to accumulate stuff again and, true to the nature of stuff, the stuff I own now owns me. What is it about us humans that enough is never enough?
Years ago there was a novel called “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” It’s essentially the story of a successful bachelor doctor who is obsessed with women. If he would but graciously accept his existence he could be happy, but he is consumed with his obsession, which in the end, destroys him. As a novelist, I’m envious of the title of that book because, I believe, it sums up the human condition perfectly. Our life is a gift. It is everything. However, except for the most spiritual among us, life is not enough. Or, perhaps it is too much. Why must we clutter our life with stuff and people and activities before it is tolerable? I don’t know.
I’ve read that the Ancients valued being over doing. Apparently, for them, it was enough to be alive. I think it must have been the industrial revolution that taught us that being wasn’t enough, but we must also produce and consume. Our identities depend on it.
I recall from a college economics class that the Great Depression was caused in part by the failure of the American people to adequately consume. In the years leading to the Great Depression factories had grown so large and efficient they were capable of producing infinite quantities of goods. Investors mistakenly thought the awesome production powers of industry would lead to great wealth. However, Americans, at the time, were determinedly independent and frugal. In the 1920’s Americans bought only what they needed and made it last. There was little demand for all the things American factories could produce because Americans valued saving instead of spending. Industry failed on a massive scale. After World War II, monumental efforts were made through advertising to educate Americans in the virtues of consumption. Our appetite for stuff has been growing ever since while our savings accounts have been shrinking and our net worth steadily advancing into negative numbers. Ironically, in the years since World War II, the Americans who have prospered the most are the ones who have continued saving instead of spending.
I don’t know what goes on in a little frog’s brain, probably not much. However, I suspect that what saves him from conspicuous consumption is a lack of imagination. He probably never thinks about how nice it would be to have Jacuzzi jets bubbling in his little plastic aquarium. But, if the little frog had the money for it, or could qualify for a loan, I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before a little frog Jacuzzi salesman showed up at his door.
Gary Horton is a novelist and blogs at: ivebeenthinking.typepad.com