It has not always been so throughout our history, of course, but today - and for a very long time now - we have been steeped in a culture that constantly urges us to excel, to rise to the top, to be a "winner", whatever that really means.
It's not just Americans, of course. We have slowly dragged much of the rest of the Western World with us into the endless rat race of one-upmanship and conspicuous consumerism.
If you are a "normal" American, you are in debt. Sometimes scarily so. Gone are the days of the proud self-sufficiency that used to be the hallmark of Traditional America. It would have been unthinkable to Americans only 40 years ago to be heavily mortgaged to the Communist Red Chinese (as we used to call them) and to not even be able to make plastic parts ourselves, much less steel. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but not so much: as I placed the plastic Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus figures on my front lawn this year, I couldn't help but notice the ubiquitous "Made in China" Americans are now so familiar with. I wonder what the common Chinese workers must think we are like in their minds as they make this stuff?
If it is true that contentment comes from living within yourself and your means, then we are surely the most discontented people on earth. We are especially reminded at this time of year of our rush to consume. We fight to buy things we don't need and, in truth, don't want. All around us we are constantly barraged with advertising. Buy now, pay later. Pay forever.
But we also are about to enter the new year, and with it another opportunity for personal renewal - a chance to mend our ways. It's always a good time to resolve to get one's financial house in order and begin making a plan to return to self-sufficiency.
Living within one's means and actual needs, and resisting the constant urge to consume, is not only a step towards a more sane life, it is an actual triumph in today's world. If you would know contentment, you will first learn to say no to yourself. Coming to practice deferred gratification is perhaps the best gift we can give ourselves in the new year.
This new year, resolve to "simplify". You would be in good company. Take care.