Priorities (or, The Effect of Guilt On Wish Lists)

On the news several weeks ago I saw a quick blurb about “What people want most this holiday season.” I finally found a copy of the story itself, so now it’s time to comment. From CNN.com:

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Computers are what Americans really want this holiday season.

According to an annual survey by the consumer electronics industry’s largest trade organization, computers outrank peace, happiness and clothes this year as the most wished-for gifts.

Last year, the most popular answer to the survey’s open-ended query about respondents’ holiday wishes was clothing, followed by peace and happiness, money and then computers. This year, after computers, peace and happiness came in second, followed by a big-screen TV, clothes and then money.

So. Computers are more important than Peace & Happiness? Is anyone really surprised?

I think this says a lot of strange things about our society, but what it really says to me is that adult Americans are embarrassed (just a little) by their rampant materialism. When asked the question “what do you want for Christmas?” the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is something they really do want. But then they feel guilty and feel obliged to throw in Peace & Happiness for good measure – just so the person asking knows they aren’t complete commercial pushovers.

But they are. We all are. Asking for Peace & Happiness for a gift is like asking for a unicorn for a gift. We all did it when we were three without ever really believing it would happen. It would have been nice if it had – no, let’s say it would have been the most freaking fantastic thing ever – but we weren’t disappointed when it didn’t, because we knew better. Even at three. Peace & Happiness doesn’t come in a box.

If you want Peace & Happiness, you won’t find it by buying a computer and a nice violent video game to play once you have it. If you want Peace & Happiness, you need to go looking for it somewhere other than your nearest Christmas gift outlet. And don’t put it on your Wish List. No one else is going to go find it for you.

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