Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy by James A. Roberts

Apr 7, 2012

I picked this book out because of my enduring fascination with how the economic situation got to where it is today.  I’m a major tightwad…a saver against that inevitable rainy day, when I lose my job, my health, or my home.  Being rather fearful, I could never fully enjoy the benefits of the credit driven, leveraged pleasures of consumption.  (I still have and use the bath towels I received at my bridal shower three decades ago.)  And, naturally enough, I tend to defend my tightfistedness with certain sanctimoniousness.  Remember when the “sensible cloth coat” had nothing to do with animal rights?   So “Shiny Objects:  Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have...” had an immediate appeal to this soul.

I glanced at the chapter titles.   I loved them: “Step Away from the Shopping Cart,”, “The American Dream on Steroids,” “Heaven Help Us: The Prosperity Gospel”, “Weapons of Mass Consumption”.   Skipping through the pages, I found marvelous quotes (“Those who flee temptation generally leave a forwarding address”), thoughtful analysis (“Programmed to Consume”) and lots of gratifying insight into how we as a nation seem to have justified equating the concept of “individual worth” with building bigger and bigger houses, for smaller and smaller families.   Let me correct myself:  “we as a species....”  This is a world-wide phenomenon, though author James A. Roberts is focused on behavior in the U.S….

In the last couple of chapters, Roberts offers some very commonsensical suggestions on how an individual and the relatives can wean themselves from this addiction to “things” and buying for the sake of…being entertained, mostly.  There’s even an appendix “I Love My Stuff”: offering a quiz, in case you would like to see if you are a “card-carrying member of the Shiny Objects Nation.”

Shiny Objects isn’t heavy economics or sociology.   Roberts is a professor of marketing at Baylor University, a nationally recognized expert on consumer behavior.  He knows a book is not going to sell well if the material is too dry to chew.  But his writing is smart, enjoyable, and thought-provoking.

Written by Kathy B.