I grew up in a family that regularly critiqued advertisements. My Dad taught advertising and marketing, and worked in the field for years. He would constantly show my brother and I what made a good ad, and how it helped sell the product.
What made a good ad was its ability to recognize a human need or want and show how the product solved it. This could be a basic need, like food, clothing or shelter– but most of the time, it was a deeper need (emotional, social, spiritual). Want to belong to a group of friends? This beer will bring you all together. Want to feel comforted? This blanket will do just that. Want to be beautiful and loved? This makeup will accentuate your best features and make that happen.
The best ads didn’t manufacture needs or wants– they played to those deep needs or wants we all have as human beings. These needs and wants typically include wanting to belong, feeling loved, being attractive, being respected, feeling like we have freedom, happiness, and having a fulfilling life.
None of these needs or wants are bad in themselves. They are a part of being human. But when we expect the products that we buy to fulfill these needs– that’s when the vicious cycle of dissatisfaction starts.
The Cycle of Dissatisfaction
When we think buying something will satisfy an emotional need or want, we will be dissatisfied until we get that product. We convince ourselves that once we get that thing, we will be happy. We will have everything we need to live a satisfactory life.
But once we get that product, in doesn’t take long to realize that the thing “we needed to have” is not the answer. At first, we are thrilled. But then, after a while, it becomes clear that the thing we bought is not the secret to happiness. We become dissatisfied again, looking for that next product to bring us contentment.
Our consumer culture actively perpetuates this cycle of dissatisfaction. If we are constantly dissatisfied and continuously looking for happiness in material goods, we will continue to buy more and more stuff. And this cycle benefits our consumer culture because the more we buy, the more profit is gained by businesses.
Our economy thrives on our dissatisfaction. But God offers us another way to live.
Being Content with God’s Gifts
Perpetuating a cycle of dissatisfaction is not new. In fact, humans have been constructing a culture of discontent for centuries, for purposes of exploitation.
We read in both the Old and New Testaments in the Bible that people felt dissatisfied. They looked to wealth and material gain for happiness and contentment. But those who followed God are reminded over and over that “God satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9). And Jesus tells us the parable of the rich fool, in which a man attempts to gain happiness and satisfaction through stockpiling stuff. God tells him that this is not the way to contentment (Luke 12:16-21).
Throughout the Bible, we hear that we cannot find ultimate satisfaction in wealth or material stuff. Only God can fill our deepest needs and desires.
Many Christians can cite Philippians 4:13– “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.” This is a great Bible verse that can inspire us! But many times, we don’t see this famous Bible verse in its original context. Paul is writing from his prison cell to the believers in Philippi:
Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Paul’s famous words about Christ strengthening him in all things is actually about being satisfied and content with how much or how little one has. Later in that same chapter, Paul writes:
I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied… And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:18-20)
Breaking the Dissatisfaction Cycle
Paul’s words to the Philippians and to us are clear. God is the one who can satisfy us– not stuff or wealth. If we continue to chase satisfaction and happiness by accumulating more and more stuff, we will be perpetually dissatisfied.
Christian minimalism is about being satisfied with God’s provision. We aim to break the vicious cycle of dissatisfaction perpetuated by our consumer culture by being content with the gifts God has given us.
We do not need more stuff. We can be satisfied with what we have already. Satisfaction and happiness are NOT one purchase away– they are are available to you now, with our loving and ever-present God.