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It's About Belonging, Not Belongings and The Stories We Tell

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

“It is the Windigo way that tricks us into believing that belongings will fill our hunger, when it is belonging that we crave.” Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, scientist, author of Braiding Sweetgrass

Beware, the Windigo can get you! The Windigo evil spirit starts out with being greedy, with an obsession and craving for "more" according to tales of the Algonquin.

Eventually if we let the Windigo have its way with us, we turn into an ever hungry, evil cannibal monster who can find no peace. Various Windigo themed stories were told to children to keep them focused on the tribal values of community, belonging, relationships where they were likely to find authentic happiness.

I’m looking for stories which will help guide me, my children, and especially my grandchildren toward living a truly good life. Stories like A Christmas Carol written over a 150 years ago qualifies. It’s a story of redemption, a turnaround from being a bah humbug scrooge. We can become better people – more generous and focused on others is the story's central message.

Of course, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is one of my favorites. The Grinch simply cannot do it, cannot steal Christmas. Because Christmas in Whoville is about love and goodwill for others of course. Ultimately, it’s a redemption story too. The Grinch's wounded, stunted heart grows three sizes bigger.

There’s even a kid’s book based on the classic, movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey learns that the wonderful life is about friends, family, community.

Why are these books necessary? Why do we pull them out especially around Christmas? Because they represent our heart's greatest, deepest yearnings, but they live inside us in tension with a different pull.

We all feel it. It's the pull of more...more stuff, more stimulation, more surprises. Our brain can get warped into thinking the good life is all about having more.

Our ancient wisdom literature has warned us about the evils of more, of coveting, of envy. Modern researchers are jumping in with the study of materialism.

Materialism is the idea that material possessions make us happy. That having more is the mark of success. That our main focus in life should be aimed at getting more.

I remember one of my teachers in high school, Mr. Stokesbury, telling us real stories of rags to riches people...urging us kids from Appalachia to go out in the world, make a bunch of money (or marry someone with a bunch of money), come back and snub all those who had snubbed us. We ate up those rags to riches revenge stories. I can still feel my glee as I fantasized about coming back to my home town covered in diamonds and a fur coat and lording over others.

Bad idea. Here’s what the researchers tell us happens to people steeped in a materialistic mind. Materialists are more depressed. Less satisfied with their relationships. Less satisfied with their lives. Even have lower self-esteem.

Researchers have tried to figure out why this happens. The general thinking supports the idea that materialists miss out on what truly makes people happy because of their misdirected focus on belongings instead of belonging.

How we can get turned around from materialism is by learning ways of being more grateful, more focused on the well-being of others, making concerted efforts to get into community and relationship. Community and relationships are what we truly crave. Belongings don’t make us happy, belonging does.

Here’s a bizarre and true story to think about (I've shared it before). It happened in 2015 in a Capitol Hill neighborhood. The terror started with a gun pointed at the head of a 14-year-old girl. A robber had somehow sneaked into the backyard as a small group of friends were enjoying steak and shrimp together on one of their patios.

“Give me your money or I’ll start shooting,” the hooded man barked. The group was scared for several reasons, one of them being that none of them had any money on them.

One of the guests said, “Look, we were just finishing dinner, why don’t you have a glass of wine with us?”

The man, with his hood down now, sat down, sipped some wine, then ate some cheese. He put his gun in his sweatpants.

“I must have come to the wrong house, sorry, can I have a hug?” he asked.

One stood up to hug the robber. Four others joined in.

“Can we have a group hug?” the man asked. All complied.

The man walked away a few minutes later with a crystal wine glass in his hand. Nothing was stolen, no one was hurt.

Belonging, not belongings is where we will find life...the good life. And, beware, it is easy to get off track.

Social media, marketing and merchandizing, and our own attraction to bright, new, and shiny objects can steal our focus. Researchers tell us our biology is partly to blame. We get a little squirt of a chemical called dopamine just thinking about more. (The Molecule of More by Daniel Lieberman explains this in more depth).

I like to think of it more as the power and peril of windigo. According to one scholar, the word "windigo" can be derived from its roots meaning "fat excess" or "thinking only of oneself." One writer, Steve Pitt, states that a Windigo is a human whose selfishness has overpowered their self control to the point that satisfaction is no longer possible.

Let me be clear, it isn't that having stuff, money, or ambition is bad. Not at all. Rather it's the excessive focus. It's the obsession, the addiction which distracts us from actual life-giving pursuits that harms us.

And as the stories tell us, we can turn ourselves around if we get off track. We can start by noticing the stories we tell.

Are we sharing stories about striking it rich? Big mansions on the mountain? Or are we telling stories about love, kindness, compassion, gratitude, community, thinking of others, sharing a glass of wine and a hug with a would-be robber?

Our stories guide us. How might we journey together to The Good Life by sharing life-giving stories?


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