I found an antidote to advertisements and the other pressures that encourage us to be always wanting and always spending. It is simple and costs nothing at all.
In a word, it is gratitude. Don’t be deceived into thinking this pious or wishy-washy affirmative thinking. At heart it is a conscious shift of focus and attention to the things in your life that give you pleasure, satisfaction or contentment.
Apart from being entirely free, it does not hurt a bit and it gives in a surprising way.
The world we find ourselves in encourages us to want more, better or different. The latest gadget, a bigger room/house/car, a newer fridge/toaster/coat. We are encouraged to focus on the negative aspects of what we have so we will be inclined to replace them, or to focus on things that we lack so we will be motivated to add them to our possessions. And it is not just things — trips, tickets to experiences of one kind or another. It is just about impossible to avoid these messages — the advertising industry knows exactly how to slide their ideas into our lives and minds.
When income is limited the lacks in our lives can monopolise our attention — a tooth that needs a dentist, a hole in a shoe, a threadbare elbow, a dwindling firewood pile or climbing electricity bill. It is not the advertisers but necessity that cracks the whip and the more important the lack is, the more helpless and dismayed we feel. Gratitude doesn’t fix this. But staying aware of what we have and value warms the soul, and builds fortitude — better to face unpleasant realities with some warmth and fortitude than without them.
It takes more than the odd passing thought to use gratitude as an antidote. What I discovered was the ‘gratitude board’ — a visible record of what gives your life quality. It could be a bit of paper on the wall, maybe a whiteboard or a blackboard if you have them. You keep the gratitude board in a place you pass often, a place you will notice often. Keep a pen beside it. Each time something comes to mind, add it to the board.
Pause as you go past and reflect on what you value. Add new things as they occur to you. Mark the ones that come back to you again and again. You are building a word-picture of the things or experiences that are the good things in your life.
Make a family board as well as a personal one. It could be as simple as a pillow that gives you a good sleep, a morning when you could sit quietly in the sun, a ratty coat that nevertheless kept you dry in the rain. It could be your partner, friends, children, neighbours, the chance to learn something, parsley in the back garden. Your health. We will all be grateful for different things, and for different things at different times in our lives.
You might be surprised at how many things you take for granted that give your life quality. When we remember what is useful and satisfying in our lives, we provide a balance for things we want or need. We are in a better place to make choices and decisions and less vulnerable to the advertisers’ blandishments.