Young People Ask . . .
Why Can’t I Have the Things I Want?
“There are some things that are really nice, and I would love to have them; but my parents can’t afford them.”—Mike.
ARE there things that you really want but cannot have? Perhaps you’ve set your heart on owning that new stereo, those shoes all the other kids are wearing, or just a new pair of jeans with a designer logo. Some of your peers own—and proudly display—such things. So if you’ve been told that your parents can’t afford them, you may be disappointed.
But while it’s normal enough to want certain material things, for many youths the desire to possess them borders on an obsession. Much of this appears to be the result of media propaganda. Slick TV, magazine, and radio ads convey the message that unless you wear certain clothes or use products with certain brand names, you are a miserable failure. Why, teenagers spend over 100 billion dollars a year in the United States alone!
Then there is pressure from peers. “In the brutally simple world of adolescents,” says an article in Marketing Tools magazine, “being thought of as uncool by the social group to which you aspire is not simply a matter of not making the grade, or even being rejected: it is the mark of The Loser.” The key to being “cool”? In many circles it is to own the best and the latest in material things. And if you can’t afford them? “It’s really, really hard,” admits one Christian youth. “You’re going to school with non-brand-name stuff, and everybody’s teasing you.” Admits another youth, “I feel left out sometimes.”
Similar pressures may be felt by youths who live in developing lands, where people toil long hours just to eke out the bare necessities of life. If this is true of your family, you may naturally yearn for a better way of life. Having seen TV shows and movies from wealthier lands, you may also have begun to develop a yearning for the expensive clothing, homes, and cars promoted in those shows and films. Because such things may seem hopelessly out of reach, you may find yourself bitter or even depressed.
Whether you live in a poor land or an affluent one, being angry or frustrated because you cannot have certain things can only harm you. It can also lead to constant bickering with your parents. The question is, How can you cope?
A Balanced View of Material Things
First, realize that it is not Jehovah God’s desire that his people live in poverty or go without things that they really need. After all, God put Adam and Eve in, not a garbage dump, but a beautiful garden full of trees desirable to the eyes. (Genesis 2:9) Later on, some servants of God, such as Abraham, Job, and Solomon, owned many material possessions. (Genesis 13:2; Job 1:3) Why, Solomon owned so much gold that silver was considered as “nothing at all” during his reign!—1 Kings 10:21, 23.
By and large, though, most of God’s people have been of modest means. Jesus Christ himself was poor; he did not even have ‘a place to lay down his head.’ (Matthew 8:20) Even so, you have never read of Jesus complaining that he couldn’t afford the things he wanted. Rather, he taught: “Never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ . . . For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”—Matthew 6:31-33.
This does not mean that God is obliged to fulfill someone’s yearning for designer clothes or electronic gadgets. God provides our needs—not necessarily our wants. That is why the Bible urges us to be content with mere “sustenance and covering.” (1 Timothy 6:8) But let’s face it, staying content is not easy. “You have a constant battle between your wants and needs,” admits a youth named Mike. Besides our own selfish inclinations, we must battle the influence of God’s archenemy, Satan the Devil. (1 John 5:19) And one of his oldest tricks is to make people feel that they are missing out on something. Eve was thus seduced into thinking that she was being deprived—even though she lived in a perfect paradise!—Genesis 3:2-6.
How can you avoid falling into a pit of discontent? It may sound like a cliché, but there is much to be said for counting your blessings. Don’t get mired in negative thoughts about what you do not have. Think positively, and remind yourself of what you do possess. (Compare Philippians 4:8.) Mike puts it this way: “There are a lot of things I really want, but I don’t dwell on them.”
It also helps to be skeptical of crafty advertisements that play on your emotions.* (Proverbs 14:15) Before jumping to the conclusion that you will “die” without that new pair of sneakers or that compact disc player, try being coolly analytic. Ask yourself: ‘Do I really need this? Does it serve a practical purpose? Is what I already own sufficient?’ Be particularly leery of advertisements that promote prestige of ownership. The apostle John’s words found at 1 John 2:16 are sobering: “Everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world.”
When You Really Need Something
What if there is something you legitimately need? Before talking to your parents about it, do a little homework. Be prepared to explain exactly why you need this item, how you plan to use it, and why you feel it would be of benefit to you. Maybe your parents will find a way to squeeze it into the family budget. But what if they cannot, at least for the time being? You may have little choice but to be patient. (Ecclesiastes 7:8) These are “critical times hard to deal with,” and many parents simply cannot afford all the things their children might request. (2 Timothy 3:1) If you avoid placing unreasonable demands on your parents, you can actually make their difficult job a bit easier.
However, it may be that you can take the initiative. For example, do you receive an allowance? Then try to learn how to budget your money carefully so that you can save a portion of it each month. It may even be possible for you to open a savings account at a nearby bank. (Compare Luke 19:23.) That is what a young girl named Abigail did. She says: “I put my money in two different piles—one is for my bank account and the other is for spending.” If you are old enough, you might even try to take on some odd jobs or part-time work.* In any event, if your parents see that you really want to buy something and that you are conscientious about saving, they may be moved to share part of the cost with you, if that is at all possible.
Making some changes in the way you shop may also work to your advantage. For example, if an item is priced out of reach, it may be possible to negotiate for a lower price. If that fails, wait and see if the item goes on sale. Shop around to see if you can find the same item at a lower price. Learn to examine items carefully for quality; sometimes generic products are excellent buys.*
Proverbs 27:20 warns: “Sheol and the place of destruction themselves do not get satisfied; neither do the eyes of a man get satisfied.” Yes, just as the grave has an insatiable appetite, some people always want more and more—no matter how much they already have. Avoid that selfish pattern of thinking. In the long run, greed brings nothing but frustration and unhappiness. A youth named Jonathan observes: “If your happiness is always based on owning things, you’ll never be happy. There will always be something new that you want. You need to learn to be happy with what you have.”
If you are content, you can deal with pressure from peers. Young Vincent says: “Just because I see somebody with a pair of brand-name sneakers doesn’t mean that I have to go out and get a pair for myself.” Of course, from time to time, it still may bother you when you can’t have what you want. But never forget that Jehovah knows your needs. (Matthew 6:32) And in the not-too-distant future, he will ‘satisfy the desire of every living thing.’—Psalm 145:16.
See the series “Advertising—How Are You Affected?,” which appeared in the August 22, 1998, issue of Awake!
See the article “Young People Ask . . . How Can I Earn Some Money?,” in our August 22, 1998, issue.
For additional helpful suggestions, see the article “Young People Ask . . . How Can I Improve My Wardrobe?,” in our January 22, 1995, issue.
[Blurb on page 13]
“You’re going to school with non-brand-name stuff, and everybody’s teasing you”
[Picture on page 14]
You can be happy without having everything you want