As I was driving home the other day, the passenger's seat piled high with bags of rice noodles, soy and fish sauce, coconut milk, and other goodies from my quarterly trip to the Asian supermarket (stocking up for light summer Thai soups & curries!), I began reflecting on the peculiar pleasure that comes from shopping.

We all know it's fun to shop - heck, some even call it "retail therapy" it feels so good! Sure, there are some people who go overboard with it - even becoming "addicted" to shopping. (And I'm not making light of that at all - it can be a very dangerous problem that can get people into a lot of financial trouble.) And in some cases there are deeper psychological issues at work. But in general, we all just like to shop!

So why is that, exactly? What is it about spending money or buying "stuff" that gives us that little jolt, or "rush" if you will, of satisfaction?

When I started to think about it, I hit upon the somewhat peculiar phrase, "bringing home the bacon." While that generally refers to earning income, the root of it goes back further than that. It's not hard to see how we can relate it to the days when humans quite literally had to go out, hunt, and kill animals, then bring them home for their family or tribe to eat in order to survive.

These days very few of us are literally bringing home the bacon in the sense of killing our own meals; instead, we're earning money, which isn't really quite so satisfying at all....

But when you get to use that money to go and buy bacon, which you then bring home to feed your family, oh, hey, there's that satisfaction thing again!

I think  the roots of our love of shopping go back to that primal need instilled in every human being to provide for oneself and one's family. When we go shopping and bring home...whatever it is we end up buying, we are in some sense, in some deep part of our brain, feeling the satisfaction that comes from ensuring our survival.

Okay, if you're buying shoes or a fancy hat, or a new dishwasher, this may seem very far-removed from survival instincts. But I think there is really something here.

It doesn't matter, so much, WHAT you're buying. It is the act of bringing home something. Something tangible that you can eat, wear, use to protect yourself and your family from the elements. Something more than just the little pieces of paper that we call "money," (and these days, most of us don't even have that in physical form).

I'm not saying that making money isn't rewarding in some way. It certainly can be. And having a large number in your bank account can definitely provide a sense of security.

But what I'm talking about is that specific feeling of satisfaction and reward, which doesn't actually come when you look at your paycheck, but instead, only when you spend it on something.

As I thought about this theory, I became even more convinced of its validity when I compared my slight shopping high with the feeling of actually providing something that I created for my family.


Same feeling, but about a thousand times amplified!

When I come in from the garden with my arms laden with piles of fresh greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, and other foods that resulted directly from my own hard work, it's like a shopping high on steroids.

Opening a jar of pickles that I canned last summer is about a hundred times more rewarding than slipping on that new pair of shoes I just bought.

Same basic feeling - just much MORE.

Yes, I enjoy coming home and unpacking my shopping bags. I love opening up the CSA share every week, inventorying the fresh, beautiful produce, or going through the big box of local pasture-raised meat that we buy a couple of times a year from a nearby small farm. I get that little "shopping high" every time. But these feelings are just a pale reflection of what it feels like to grow and produce our own food.

I think that is one of the intangible things we modern humans have lost as we have moved to a convenience society. As we have stopped fending for ourselves, and instead let industrial farms and supermarket chains become our main food sources, as we have started working for others instead of ourselves, and as we have begun to pay others to do things like make our clothes, build our homes, and raise and prepare our food, we have left behind one of the greatest satisfactions of life: the satisfaction that comes from being self-sufficient.

I think on some level we are all longing for this feeling, really without even knowing what it is we long for. This is why we crave that "shopper's high," and why we sometimes find it so hard to avoid spending more than we should.

Now, there's nothing wrong with shopping (as long as you are responsible about it, and stay in line with your budgetary needs), and there's nothing wrong with enjoying it.

But if we truly want to find a deeper level of satisfaction in our lives, I think we need to begin to reclaim some of our own responsibility when it comes to providing for ourselves and our families.

We don't have to give up all of our modern conveniences, quit our jobs, move "off the grid," and become homesteaders.

But a little kitchen garden isn't out of the question for most people. Making your own butter takes 10-15 minutes, tastes worlds better than storebought, and gives you that feeling of accomplishment (same thing for ice cream, by the way). Jam, bread, and refrigerator pickles are just a few other things that are super easy, cheap, and rewarding to make at home. If you can raise a few chickens, even better.

And if you do want to do the whole homestead thing, as much work as it will be, the degree of reward will go far beyond what any shopping spree - no matter how extravagant - could ever bring you.

As for my own little family, we are enjoying the start of our second year of full-scale home gardening (and canning, preserving, etc.). We look forward to chickens once we have a fence and coop in place, and further down the road, maybe a barn and lambs or goats. Perhaps someday, we'll even bring some of our own bacon to the table! :-)

I'll keep you posted on our progress, in hopes that you may learn something helpful that you can use in your own life to be more self-sufficient, and find that deep satisfaction that comes when you do for yourself, instead of always paying others to do for you.

In the meantime, why not get out in the beautiful spring weather and plant a little garden this year - even if it's just a few containers on your patio? Bake up some homemade bread. Brew some homemade beer or cider. Or try a batch of homemade jam.

All of these things are so cheap, it won't cost you much other than a bit of time. And the rewards will be far beyond what you would experience from that shopping trip to the store to buy these things instead.

To your health & happiness!


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