Want What You Have; Buy What You Need

Years ago, I read in The New York Times that the average American adult is the target of some 3,500 commercial ads in a single day. How outrageous is that? Sure, we live in a highly commercialized society, but 3,500 ads? In a single day? I figured that had to be a gross exaggeration.

I decided to conduct my own test. I would count the ads I heard or saw in my typical day. I knew it wouldn’t come anywhere close to 3,500.

The next morning the radio alarm sounded and before I could even open my eyes, I needed to put two hash marks on my score pad. So prolific were the ads on television I could barely keep an accurate count and get ready at the same time.

Of course I had to count every message, banner, business placard, real estate sign, billboard, license plate frame, bumper sticker, commercial vehicle and bus I saw on the way to work, all the while being careful not to miss any radio ads. Good thing I wasn’t driving.

Reading the newspaper boosted my count significantly as did flipping through a few magazines. Have you ever counted the ads in a typical women’s magazine? Try it sometime.

Logging onto the Internet shot my count through the roof. The mail arrived at 10 a.m., and that’s when I surrendered. Not only was it impossible to get anything done while counting the commercial influences on my fairly low-key, ho-hum kind of a day, I couldn’t keep up with the pace. It was a mind-boggling exercise.

Thirty-five hundred ads per adult per day? Easy! In fact, I’ll bet that in reality it’s a lot more than that.

So how do we overcome the feeling wanting that you don’t have or even need?

The answer and antidote to that nagging feeling of dissatisfaction is to find contentment. But how can we do that? I’ve discovered the truth in these eight little words: Want what I have; buy what I need.

Sounds simple enough, but achieving that can be a challenge. Here’s my advice to anyone who has become over-commercialized to the point of being constantly dissatisfied:


Wait. Don’t leave me now. I know this sounds simplistic, but it’s the truth: You have complete control over your thoughts. You can choose to think about what you don’t have, or be grateful for what you do have. Write down the top 10 things for which you are grateful. Be honest, thoughtful. Then choose to think on those things. Determine to love your home. Be kind to it. Clean it, adore it, make it a place where you feel accepted for who you are. Be grateful that you even have a home!


When with genuine gratitude you choose to want what you have, you build a layer of insulation around your life that will protect you from the harshness of over-commercialization. Reading the fine print, analyzing what clearly is too-good-to-be-true and questioning outrageous commercial messages are also good ways to increase that protective layer of insulation that will allow you to find contentment.


If you are easily dissatisfied or prone to impulsive behaviors, identify your weak spots and then isolate yourself from them. Turn off the television. Skip past the magazine ads. Ban the use of vending machines. Isolate yourself from mindless shopping. Throw mail-order catalogs in the recycling unopened. Put distance between you and places you are most likely to slip back into your old ways of spending beyond your means.

Gratitude is the secret to contentment — that wonderful serene place where we find satisfaction and joy in wanting what we have.

This article was contributed by Mary Hunt.

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