I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.
~ Lennon-McCartney

In Barrack Obama’s nomination speech, he called for parents to take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance to their children’s needs. This reminded me of a single-mom who appeared in Oprah’ show and bragged about lavishing on her 4-year-old daughter not only fifty Barbie dolls, but also diamond earrings. All along, she insisted that her daughter was not spoiled. We have forgotten to teach the next generation how important it is to BE, and instead have been demonstrating what is important to HAVE. It certainly is easier to buy them the latest gadget than to take them biking or fishing.

Since when have objects become the evidence of love? DeBeers asked us to comply: “If you love her, buy her diamonds”. As far as relationships go, it has now become the invincible principle. But why do we believe that our love is “not enough”?

We have far more “things” than people in less privileged parts of the world. However, many of us may score lower in happiness rankings when compared to those people. I’ve always been stunned by the brightest of smiles from the far flung corners of the third world. Well known author/marketer Seth Godin said, “What you have doesn’t make you unhappy. What you want does. And want is created by us, the marketers. Marketers who try to grow market share will always work to make their non-customers unhappy.”

Indeed, over the century, De Beers has been highly successful in marketing diamonds as a symbol of love and commitment. A young copyrighter coined the famous line “A Diamond is Forever” back in 1947 and the line was named the best advertising slogan of the twentieth century.

Our notions of “happy”, ”success”, and “love” are so heavily swayed by the mass media because we worry so much about how we are perceived by “everybody”. The problem is, our dopamine neurohormones actually cease firing once the reward becomes predictable. In other words, the expectation of receiving something is ALWAYS more exciting than the very act of obtaining or owning it. Therefore, we constantly need new toys, more costly ones to spice up our mundane daily life. And before we know it, it becomes an insidious addition.

I won’t say that I am completely immune to the mass-cultural impact. My husband did purchase a genuinely exquisite diamond ring from a jeweler in Bangalore, India who was once the provider for Queen Victoria (and that was before we watched Blood Diamonds). We both don’t like wearing rings, and we didn’t even exchange rings at our wedding ceremony. Sometimes I got a curious look but I really didn’t mind.

Over the years, we have chosen to spend our resources on accumulating mutual experiences, especially traveling, rather than acquiring “things”. Every weekend we play frisbee in our pool, a florescent pink frisbee from the Nixon era. We spend a lot of time rocking at our balcony and talking nonsense. It is much more fun than staring at (or showing off) the diamond ring, at least to me.

I have come to realize that our existence and our way of being are truly the best presents we can bestow upon each other. Intimacy is shown in everyday life. When you urgently need him/her to be close and to be caring, a polymorph of carbon, however “precious”, probably won’t help. And sure enough, it won’t be very wise to make a lifetime commitment to a piece of carbon either.

Next time when you are buying gifts, why don’t you give people some nice “experiences” rather than things: go to a concert together, invite somebody for a walk, bring them a surprise dinner…these could be so much more memorable.

I don’t fully agree with the Beatles. I think money can buy you love, but only for a little while. Before the dopamine level drops again.

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