Creating Happiness by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan

My nightly reading to my daughter has revealed another blog post. We are still in the Rocky Ridge Years—specifically On The Other Side of the Hill, which chronicles a fictionalized version of Rose Wilder’s life written by Roger Lea MacBride. Tonight’s reading was about a cyclone and I have to say it is always intense to read about the hardships of farm life as a parent. Often I get a little teary, which my daughter can’t stand and usually reminds me, “It’s just a story, Mom.”

What captured my attention, that I wanted to write about, was in a chapter entitled “Wish Book” that I read to my daughter more than a week ago. I had planned to write about it last week, but I was in the middle of my own cyclone—burned up car engine, a rental car situation, traveling for family fun and obligations, and the death of a favored aunt all hit at once—and this past Sunday, when I came home from our Spring Break trip I realized that Wednesday had long since passed.

“Wish Book” is a familiar term from my childhood. Every year we got the big Sears catalog, the “Wish Book” before Christmas and I poured over it, wishing for so many things: dolls, doll accouterments, toys, clothes, furniture. I would fold the pages to mark what I wanted. And sadly, I never felt like I got those items I dreamed of having. This isn’t a comment on my parent’s because at this late date it’s hard to remember if that is a true statement “I didn’t get what I wanted” or just a feeling—a feeling created by looking in that “Wish Book.”

My longing was great and I over the years I have wondered how much the pining over the much-loved “Wish Book” contributed to a sense of “not having what I desired.” The notion of longing attached to advertising is not new. In fact looking at catalogs for many years into my adulthood I would have the same sensation. Finally, I stopped looking at both catalogs and magazines. I can’t say that I had major epiphany about advertising per se, rather the deepness of longing for things subsided slowly.

After my daughter was born I decided that the “Wish Book,” essentially any catalogs, would be removed from our home. I remember the American Girl catalog came in the mail when my daughter was four. I looked at it. It was scrumptious: dolls and dolly things beyond one’s wildest imaginings. It was like a drug and then I recycled it immediately. I didn’t want my daughter to find it by accident.

I have consciously kept that kind of targeted advertising away from my daughter. That we don’t have TV in the house has made my desire to shield my daughter from unsatisfied desire a bit easier. Again, I have often wondered about my own unhappiness and how much advertising really contributes to a feeling of dissatisfaction about one’s life.

As a parent, consciously keeping advertising out of our home is a decision I continue to uphold. I don’t often take my daughter shopping with me. I instead buy various things and keep the receipts and we have an at home trying-on of everything. She picks what she likes and what fits appropriately and I take back the rest. I have watched the shopping experience activate the same longing as advertising in that there is just so much stuff, most of which one’s doesn’t need.

Which leads me back to the “Wish Book” chapter. In the story Papa Wilder brings home the book. Rose pours over it and Papa says that they can afford a few things. Mama (Laura) Wilder writes a list with the prices of the little things that could be described as possible necessities. The list adds up to be quite a bit of money. Mama crosses things off the list to bring the price down, but the total amount is still large given their budget. Finally, Mama throws the list in the fire.

I was struck by how much the “Wish Book” really cemented for the country a sense of longing. The stories from the Rocky Ridge Years are set in the late 1800s. And now we have the most insidious advertising machine ever invented by humans: the Internet. As I am writing this I look over at my Sunset magazine (which arrived today in the mail) and has on the cover a cute little camp trailer that I so want, but the price of it is more than I paid for my car.

Tonight before I go to bed I will pour over my Sunset magazine and feed my addiction to longing. I consider it an escape to look at magazines and even catalogs, but will I feel happier afterwards? Not likely. So while my own habits die hard, my daughter does not live in this world of longing. Does she want things? Yes, a horse. She is saving for it. She has voiced a desire for a large American Girl doll. She has the small historical American Girl dolls and books. She enjoys vastness of some of her friends’ homes, but Santa brings what my daughter desires and she is satisfied with those gifts and what I bring home because there is no picture to compare what has arrived with some idealized image of perfection and grandness. Hopefully, this sense of satisfaction (happiness) is internalized for her so that even though there will be encounters of longing or unmet desires, longing won’t be a feeling that permeates her life.

The “Wish Book” is just that: a book full of things to wish upon. A catalog of desires many of which cannot be met or if met don’t match the perfect image created in advertising. To me, longing for things leads to dissatisfaction with one’s life and the moment now, which leads to unhappiness.

Ban the “Wish Book” and create more happiness.

Tags: , , ,