Ice cream better than 'stuff'At a recent gathering of my large family, my brother called out at the top of his voice, “what kind of ice cream is it?”
By: Betsy Hart, The Dickinson Press
At a recent gathering of my large family, my brother called out at the top of his voice, “what kind of ice cream is it?”
And as always, laughter ensued, especially from our good-natured dad.
You see years ago ( and I mean years ago) when I was about 5, my family had just finished eating dinner and my mom announced there was ice cream for desert. One of my brothers made the mistake of asking “what flavor is it?” That led to exclamations of outrage from my dad. Why? Because when he was a kid during the Great Depression, they were lucky to get ice cream at all, darn it!
It was the biggest treat imaginable. In fact most of the time the only way to get it was to make it themselves and no one, especially not a kid, would have even dreamed of asking what flavor the ice cream was!
And on it went. I’m not sure if any one of us ever did get ice cream that night, I do know we learned a lot about the history of ice cream, at least in our father’s life. We also learned that my parents thought we kids were ungrateful. Imagine that.
But flash forward, and things have changed — for the worse. For starters, today’s parents spend five times as much on our kids’ “stuff,” on average, as our parents did. And that’s in real dollars. But would anyone suggest that today’s children are more grateful in general than we were as kids?
It seems there is a theory in psychology, the “hedonic treadmill,” which explains why the acquisition of more stuff doesn’t in and of itself lead to happiness. Supposedly it’s the case that when we get more “stuff” our expectations for more “stuff” rise in tandem, so while we can be satisfied in the short term by a thing, over the long term acquiring more things will never make us happy because we’ll just want more, well, things (i.e., exactly how we Americans got into our current economic mess.)
Or maybe we are like Erysichthon. I remember learning in Greek mythology that he was a king cursed by the Goddess Demeter for building a feasting hall in her space, so to speak. The more food he ate, the hungrier he got until he ended up devouring himself. Ouch.
Now look, personally I like “stuff.” In fact, my sibs recount that as a child I would often go on a “campaign” for whatever it was I wanted and that way too often in their minds, my dear mother would give in. (Is this a girl thing? A man I once knew held to the motto that whether it was love or stuff, “a man can never truly satisfy a woman, he can only distract her for a short time.” Hmmm.)
Anyway, I’ve written in recent columns how with this crazy economy, I’m determined to be far more careful about that treadmill. But this new year I’m determined not just to stay off of it, but to be so grateful, and to help my kids be more grateful, for what we do have. To cherish experiences, and time, and laughter, over “stuff.”
One mechanism I’ve employed for a while now with some effect, I think, is asking more of my children around the house, paying them a little more generous allowance than their peers might receive, then letting them be responsible for things like movie tickets, the latest book they want, and as they get older, clothes and other necessities. My oldest daughter already does a lot of that and boy is she good at shopping the sales and waiting to find just the right thing that really is pleasing to her. (I have something to learn from that one.)
Okay, I have a lot to learn. But I want to be, and I want my kids to be, people who can always be pleased by a simple bowl of ice cream, whatever the flavor. That’s great stuff.
— Hart hosts the “It Takes a Parent” radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago.