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Living With This Question for a Week

"How do they want me to feel so that my wallet opens?"

image courtesy of

Have you ever spent a week watching the media around you, and asking yourself, “What do they want me to feel so I’ll buy their product?”

It’s eye-opening.

Most of us know that algorithms ‘decide’ what to show us — on social media, on the news and tv shows we watch. That’s not evil. It’s just what is: they show us what we want, so we’ll buy the products associated with it. If we don’t shell out, they’ll show us how bad life is without it, and then, ka-ching! We buy it.

Money. Our language, our currency.

This past week, I watched the media through the lens of, “What do they want me to feel so my wallet will open?” A constant, jumpy, colorful series of reels showing me THIS! skin care line, this hand made journal, this book about a new wellness strategy, this device to help me track my sleep, food intake, hydration, steps —

Here’s what happened as I lived with the question.

This skin care line. (What do they want me to feel?) They want me to feel old, wrinkly, unattractive. I pause. I think — you know what? Of course I look older than I was thirty, that’s okay with me. I feel pretty good about myself. I mean good enough to know I don’t need to spend any money trying to look thirty when I’m almost seventy.


This hand made journal. (What do they want me to feel?) They want me to engage in a fantasy of luxurious self-expression. They want me to think I matter enough to put words into these hand-made journals. I really hate to admit how many journals I’ve let languish over the years. This is only a very small portion of them. They will be attended to eventually, but I mean, look. They’re sitting right there as I pine for one that’s online that looks super cool — cooler than these. But…

Photo by Tina Lear

…but, I pause again. I want. I feel into the kneejerk ‘head’want of the thing I’m looking at online, and I go deeper. Do I really want the hand made journal?

Actually, I do not. Here, I have them in a doublebind. First, I matter enough not to need to put any words into any pages (no sale). Second, I don’t matter at all, in the existential sense. I’m just atoms and molecules in the universe and it doesn’t matter whether I think or write or do anything anyway (again, no sale). I genuinely feel richer without it.


Then this gradual detachment from the world of want grows in me, everywhere. TV ads come on for blue waters and hammocks and drinks with tiny umbrellas in them. I give a wry smile look around at my own house. Also calm. Also restful — no hammock, but a bed that almost every time we’ve climbed into it for the past twenty years, we’ve sighed with relief, loving our bed.

In fact, on a good day after we’ve done the floors, if we took pictures and put them up on AirB&B and said, “For a mere $1,500 a night, you can stay here—two stories and a finished basement, meditation room, three bedrooms, three baths, a library with big TV, well equipped kitchen, fully fenced back yard with grill, pet friendly, AND a Tesla charger in the garage — tell me you wouldn’t think it was a deal. And I get to live here!

Then I check email and, one after the other, do this workshop!, make money on amazon!, get published!, get an agent!, take this course that’s right in your strike zone, etc. etc. etc. No. They want me to feel a sense of lack. And once I looked it right in the eye, the wanting itself dissolved.

Make no mistake. It’s not like I’m ‘free’ or anything. It’s just, I do maybe 40% less unconscious clicking of the “Buy now!” button. Which is not chump change. In the financial or the psychological world.

Wisdom comes with age. I’m 69. I figure I’m right on track.

Let me know your experience with this question. Go through a whole day, or a whole week, and tell me what it was like to ask, “What does the corporation behind this ad want me to feel?” It’s astounding how much you can learn about yourself.


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