A friend and I were walking through an art gallery a few years ago when we noticed a glass sculpture of a woman wearing a cloak. The vague figure was positioned on a pedestal and stood about two feet taller than its base. The abstract sculpture was created by stacking layers of glass; the green edges of the glass gave it the appearance of jade. I would pass by it to look at other work only to find myself returning again and again to admire the piece. I realized that I liked the sculpture enough to consider purchasing it. Then I looked at the price. I think it was worth just over $4,000, but it was money I didn’t have. Perhaps that is a good thing.
I was really disappointed on a couple of levels. I knew I could easily enjoy that particular sculpture for a long time and wouldn’t get bored of it. I also knew it would likely not be in the gallery very long. As I thought, it was only there a few weeks and then it was gone. Feeling sad that I couldn’t afford the piece I admired, I later bought a small print that was a percent of the cost I had first considered. It wasn’t the same, but it was something.
Numerous times since then I have admired other things enough to consider acquiring them. Most of the time I don’t purchase them, but I sure want to. Other times I have thought the purchase important enough to save up for months and then follow through. Regardless of the size of the purchase, I always find it more tempting go through with a purchase when I have the means to do it. Sometimes it is not a matter of whether I should, but whether or not I can.
I have since tried to consider what causes me to admire and eventually acquire something. After discussing the matter with my wife and some friends, I have come to a few conclusions.
Personally I tend to admire things that improve my quality of life. I like beautiful things that are well designed. More specifically, I like things that inspire me, or connect me with something else, be it a memory, a relationship, or sometimes an idea. There is great value to me in a painting or a book that can connect me with an emotion or a thought, a connection that can take me some place that I might not otherwise go.
A few months ago, the friend I first spoke of acquired a painting that we are both fond of. It is the contemporary work of a local artist, Hyunmee Lee. The painting is now hung on a large lobby wall at the office where we work. Each time I walk by the painting I admire it, largely because it inspires me to think beyond the ordinary. I appreciate it for its simplicity and richness. In a theoretical way, it inspires me to give more depth to my own creative work. I want to move past the superficial and cut to the essence. Briefly put, it helps me get to a more creative frame of mind quicker. It creates a connection with a deeper meaning that improves my work. In this way, the painting connects me with a source of inspiration and allows me to become something I currently am not. When this happens on a regular basis, the object has the potential of improving and enhancing my life. While I admire the painting, it is the connection to greater meaning that captivates my attention.
My wife has a different but essential approach to improving our quality of life. Many of the things she admires enough to acquire are practical in nature – things that make life better by simplifying. Her acquisitions tend to reduce the amount of time she needs to spend on certain tasks. This allows her to spend more time on things that have greater meaning, such as our family. Having the right tools to complete regular tasks in less time can mean more time together. This allows us to build memories and experiences that we will have the rest of our lives.
An additional reason for acquiring earthly things is to meet our personal needs. Because those needs can vary so widely for each individual, the question of when to acquire something may also be better answered by the individual. I would prefer not to judge another’s needs or circumstances. But knowing that needs can often change, and are sometimes insatiable, I believe it is worth some introspection to evaluate when we should and shouldn’t acquire. I occasionally watch my personal wants slide into the needs category. I can also come up with some pretty good arguments, when I want to, as to why they should. However, I also recognize that sometimes you just can’t let yourself want the things you want.
Joseph Smith stated in the thirteenth article of faith, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” The word seek also merits some personal reflection. What does it mean for us to seek? While seeking can often mean acquiring, in some cases looking and searching may be sufficient. At other times the word “seek” may imply emulation. If we are clear on what our needs are, and how we may best meet them, we may not be required to acquire as much as we think.
Whether we acquire or simply admire, it is in our natures to connect ourselves with other things. Material possessions are not our only pursuit. We may seek friendship, mutual understanding, or even knowledge. Regardless of our pursuit, we should remember that in mortality, we can’t connect to everything. We have to choose. We choose our relationships, and our possessions. We have to choose how we spend our time.
Whatever your reasons may be for admiring something or someone, I believe the potential for satisfaction increases greatly when we are deliberate in our decisions. Making a choice because it is the default option or a matter of habit is often the non-choice. Making a decision because it is the right decision is much easier to defend.