I recently made two big purchases: a brand-new-second-expensive-latest-model iPhone and a accompanying brand new MacBook Air. You may be thinking, “Wow! Lucky!” And yet, I’m sitting here feeling shame and guilt about my expenditures. Overcome by buyer’s remorse, I struggled to appreciate my newly bought technology.
It took me three weeks to fully understand the implications of these purchases and my feelings behind them. When I received my new phone it sat in a box, unopened for four days. I didn’t have that childlike opening-presents-on-Christmas-morning feeling like I used to when I acquired new technology. And to make it worse, less than a week later, I bought a new Mac.
It’s probably unfamiliar territory to hear someone talking so negatively about getting new devices when that person bought them out of their own will. I wanted the new technology because it had been five years since I had a new phone or laptop. And yet, I couldn’t shake this feeling inside of me that didn’t sit right. My buyer’s remorse prompted something else inside of me.
Materialism or Existentialism
Carrying this weight around with me for almost a month led me to have a breakdown yesterday. I questioned everything and wrote poetry about “the futility of existence” and “does any of this matter? do I even matter?” Last night as my thoughts tossed and turned in the swamp that was my mind, I kept wondering where this bout of existentialism started. Eventually, I was able to trace it back to buying the phone.
Not understanding what this meant, I suffered through a moderately sleepless night of tortured existing. It wasn’t until I was meditating this morning that I finally realized why I had been in so much pain.
These big purchases of a phone and laptop seemed extravagant at the time. I knew it and yet I still bought them. Why? I’m sure there are several layers to this, but ultimately, I wanted to. I wanted more storage because I was tired of the box popping up telling me I had no more free disk space. I wanted a better camera to take better pictures and get more likes on Instagram. And I wanted to be a part of this culture to which I don’t feel a part of.
As a Millennial, I am caught in between the technologically-addicted and the technologically-reliant. And as a first-generation American on my father’s side, I often struggle with materialism and consumerism.
Half of my history comes from a third world country where the idea of dropping thousands of dollars on one item is absurd. They could survive and live luxuriously on that amount of money for a whole year. I know, I saw it firsthand when I was volunteering in Thailand.
I lived in a city known for its sex tourism and witnessed the sex district and the streets surrounding with women sprinkled around waiting for their next customer, their next paycheck. Most of these women had families back home, and the men they had sex with would be providing them with the money to send to their families so their children and parents and siblings could afford to eat, to live, to survive.
My own life
I understood how painful this must have been, having been a frequent member of the bar scene in my 20s—sacrificing my dignity for a fleeting, and usually unsatisfying, feeling of approval. Mine was by choice (although I could argue I had no choice due to this crippling need to be loved inside), but these women had no choice. They didn’t know what else to do.
I struggled for months trying to make these big purchases. It was like I had pre-buyer’s remorse. Researching where to get the best deal and figure out the best way to purchase and spend the least amount of money. I thought my resistance was due to the fact that I just recently paid off all my credit card debt and still didn’t have that much money to be able to live lavishly. I thought I was just trying to be frugal. Not realizing that underlying this feeling of discomfort was an actual belief I had developed in my travels.
My resentment for myself and for the inequality around the world showed up strongly for me these past few weeks. After this brief depression of not understanding why I was feeling so low, I have a new understanding of myself.
Learning to live again
Before I lived in Thailand and experienced what extreme poverty looks like, I loved shopping. I loved buying new things so I could feel good about myself and feel pretty or special. Now, I view shopping as mildly unnecessary—depending on what the purchase is for.
Striving to alleviate my guilt, I called up a friend this morning. I knew she would be the perfect person to talk to because she is affluent, but also the most generous person I have ever met. She not only gives her money to help others, but she also gives her time and energy. Wanting her perspective on how to cope with these feelings of buyer’s remorse and guilt I asked her for advice. She graciously shared her opinion, which can be summed up in one word: gratitude.
My friend told me that situations are not fair around the world and that people are born into different circumstances. And it’s a disservice to feel guilty about our own blessings. To her, the grace of God (or whatever you believe) is something to be appreciated and then shared with others.
Instead of feeling guilty and having buyer’s remorse that I can afford to buy expensive things, I can feel gratitude that I worked six jobs to be able to pay off all my debt and now I can enjoy my hard work.
The truth about life
Life circumstances are not fair. However, it’s what we do with our circumstances that provides meaning and allows us to ameliorate injustice seen around the world. So I’ve decided that I’m going to use my new iPhone and MacBook to help others.
I will continue to write and build my blog while will allow me to make money. Then I can donate to organizations helping to free people from prostitution and poverty. Rather than feeling ashamed of what I have, I can use what I have to make a difference in the world. And it starts by not feeling guilty, but rather living in a state of gratitude and service.
I may not be able to change where I was born, or where others were born, but I can certainly appreciate all my blessings and work to pay it forward.