Thursday, November 08, 2007

stress

n. — the condition that results when person-environment transactions lead the individual to perceive a discrepancy, whether real or not, between the demands of a situation and the resources of the person's biological, psychological or social systems."
The Great Wiki
We talk a lot about stress in this culture. And because of us, other cultures are catching on, too—last year, my boss and I heard a story on NPR about the rise of see-tress—a phonetic approximation of the English word—in Vietnam, where business is good and stress is becoming a symbol of affluence, ambition, and success. [Last year, as a result of hearing this story on the radio, we ran an article in Seek magazine (PDF; see page 7) addressing the stress, and other North American cultural products, that are exported to the rest of the world with little thought to their effect on our global neighbors.]

Lately I've been thinking about stress from this perspective, but also from the perspective of someone who's been feeling quite stressed out lately, and I think this link between stress and consumerism is stronger than most of us would ever expect.

Think about it: if stress is the result of a discrepancy between expectations and reality, or the demands and the resources to meet those demands, then the potential for stress will increase anytime expectations and demands increase, because there is always some limit to our resources.

Now you'd think—and I believe many of us North Americans do think—that, at some point, we would have enough time, money, energy, whatever, to meet the demands that we and others have placed on us; that we could reach a point where stress levels stop rising and reach a sort of equilibrium. But that's exactly the flawed thinking that gets us in trouble in the first place; it's based on consumerist thought that isn't really aware of itself. The trouble with humanity is that, the more we have, the more we want. We can make a conscious effort to exercise self-control, to say "enough is enough," to be content with what we have. But unless we do that, the demands and expectations will continue to rise. And with them come stress.

There's nothing wrong with expectations or ambitions. Heck, the whole reason we uprooted our entire lives three months ago and moved here to Pittsburgh—that was all about expectations and ambitions. Expectations for an education that would allow my husband to better use his gifts and talents. Ambitions for him to make more money so that I don't have to—especially while we're raising a family, which we hope to do soon. Expectations that someday, we can have more time to pour into our community, our church, our family, and our friends. There's nothing wrong with us working toward these goals. But we need to understand that, in the meantime, we are going to experience stress as a result.

The key, however, is to halt the escalation of consumerism. We need to know where to draw the line. Because if we don't draw that line (and keep retracing it as each day passes), when we arrive there, we'll soon find there's more that we aspire to; further discrepancies between what is and what we think should be.

This is all fairly obvious . . . but what I think we really don't get—what we just don't realize most of the time—is that we all must make a decision to be content. Contentment doesn't come to us; we come to it. And—although this is unthinkable to most of us—for the most part, our neighbors around the world who have a lot less than we do are much better at drawing that line and choosing contentment than we are. How can they be content with next to nothing, we wonder?

In large part, our society is populated by the descendants of hardworking, hungry, and sometimes even deprived, abused, or persecuted people. Now don't get me wrong; I'm glad all our ancestors had the ability and the drive to "make a better life" for their families . . . I just think sometimes we take that whole "making a better life" thing a little too far. Because often "a better life" is defined by possessions, higher education, and even higher expectations—not by deeper relationships with God, family, and friends, or by being a person of character. And you have to admit, by and large, we North Americans are quite poor in spirit, whereas our neighbors across the ocean tend to be a bit better at focusing on what's really important in life.

Maybe it's because they're not stressed out by the daily grind of reaching for more.

For the most part, our neighbors in Africa and Southeast Asia and South America don't get to choose where they "draw the line" with regard to what they're striving for. I suppose you could say they're lucky they don't have to make that decision. But in a way, they still do—we all do. We all have to determine what's enough and be content if we ever want to have less stress.

And I sure as heck have had enough of that for one lifetime. How about you?

2 comments:

katie lynn said...

thanks dulci. very convicting once again....especially after a smalls shopping spree yesterday in the lancaster outlets. Hope you're well...hope you're content.

brannabee said...

dulc,
thanks, buddy. um... and woah. like, did you recently get a used pulpit at a yard sale? heh. no, seriously, good thoughts, well put, and a super reminder. nate dawg and i have had many a conversation about this sort of thing of late. thanks.