As we enter into Black Friday, I’d like to invite those that I love to consider the two primary motivations for purchasing items and experiences.

  1. We seek to solve a need: Like when we purchase soap with the intention of using its surfactant ability to prevent the spread of pathogens. Or, we purchase a cooking pot to cook our food and boil water.
  2. We seek an emotion (which we sometimes refer to as a feeling or desire): Many of our purchases are based on the desire to evoke a feeling or emotion. These emotions and feelings can range from a desire for feelings of connection, love and safety (feeling successful is a form of safety), to a desire for feelings of excitement, and freedom (including freedom from pain).

As I look at my past and present choices, it’s easy to see that, although many of my purchases are a blend to the two motivations, many of my purchases solidly stem from the second category; the desire to experience feelings and emotions. Presently, I am sitting on a rooftop balcony in Marrakesh, Morocco. As I write this, I am listening to the echo of the city’s many mosques, reciting the second of the five daily calls to prayer.

In every culture in which I’ve studied, the rules of engagement, cultural boundaries, logic, and ethics contain similarities, but also vast differences from my initial cultural upbringing. I love discovering these similarities and differences; and, I especially love trying to understand the rationale behind each culture’s respective beliefs and rules of engagement.

Immersive travel, the study of history, a desire to understand others and myself, passion in finding and providing solutions to alleviate and eliminate pain – these are all fueled by my underlying feelings of and desire for love and connection. They are fueled by emotion.

Understanding this about myself, I draw daily from the Theraveda Buddhist practice of loving kindness. For a few moments each day, I close my eyes and allow myself to generate and feel emotions of love and connection. I direct these feelings of love and connection internally and then expand them outward, allowing myself to feel love and kindness for all beings. In following this practice, I remind myself of where feelings are really derived.

It is important to understand that purchases and experiences can only serve as symbols to which we ascribe meaning. All emotions are internally generated; and no purchase or external experience can buy or even create an emotion. Direct experience teaches us this lesson.

I once watched a man try to give away a ticket that he had purchased for $5,000 for a front row seat at a sold-out business conference. He had previously gifted the ticket to a friend; but his friend had failed to show up.

In the moment, no one wanted the ticket. I, like the others around me, were seated next to the people with whom we desired connection and a shared experience. In the context of the moment, this generous man’s upgraded ticket no longer served as the symbol for the emotions and feelings that we (and he) had come to the conference to experience. If you reflect on it, I’m sure that you’ve witnessed similar situations.

So, I invite you to consider what you really want from your purchases today. Because, the value and worth of things (of these symbols) are a malleable illusion to which we ascribe meaning. Life is truly beautiful when we accept that symbols can change; but that we find true meaning from within.

I’m not advising you to stop purchasing things, only inviting you to reflect on why you purchase items. Perhaps it will help us all get a little closer to having what we truly want.

I’m sending you “metta” today (and every day).