Kathryn Lopez

We might not think of Madonna's "Material Girl" as our theme song, but that old hit still captures something about the way we live today.

It's why there's something incredibly timely about the talk of sacrifice in the air. Catholic bishops, who met in Baltimore this month, discussed following the lead of the bishops in Britain, who have reintroduced the discipline of abstaining from meat on Fridays as an "external act of penance, so necessary to fight the reign of sin so evident in our personal lives, in the world, and even within religious communities," as New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan has put it. But it needn't take scandal, bankruptcy, or a hurricane to remember the "essentials of life that no wind or wave can wipe out -- love, faith, hope, life itself, family, friends, a future and a community that has let (people) know they are not alone," as Dolan wrote recently.

"Living a life of meaning requires that we have the ability to exercise control over our behavior and desires," Roberts reflects. "I feel that any real and lasting behavior change is preceded by a change in our attitudes. Once you have convinced yourself that money and possessions are not the path to happiness, you're halfway there," he says.

"Shiny Objects" isn't so much a resource for condemnation as a catalyst for change. Fewer shiny objects this Christmas might give us an opportunity to enjoy one another, to move forward together in love, rather than in an exchange line, clutching gift receipts.

"'Shiny Objects' was written with two broad objectives in mind," Roberts explains. "The first was to make a compelling argument that more money and possessions will not make us happier." Again, we may think we know this, but does our budget this month suggest something else? Once the disease is diagnosed, Roberts, a professor at the business school at Baylor University, offers a prescription: "The last four chapters explain how these new attitudes about money and possessions can be put to work in the reader's life.

"A moderate measure of self-control over our finances can bring peace where worry, stress and anxiety once reigned. My hope is that readers leave 'Shiny Objects' with a new outlook on what real happiness entails and how this elusive state can be achieved."

Roberts' book might save you this time of year. For as Roberts says, quoting Albert Einstein: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." Fewer shiny objects means more room for riches.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.