I once had a teacher who explained to us the difference between enjoying a thing and wanting to own it. When we “window shop” we are taking in visual delights that we don’t take home with us. But when we go into the shop and purchase said delights we are taking ownership over them, perhaps over time to lose that original sense of wonder. When we go to a live concert it is very different from buying a CD or mp3 and enjoying it in the comfort of our living rooms, but then tiring of it after the 100th listen, putting it away where it gathers dust or becomes buried in our iTunes list.

Choristers From Westminster Abbey Prepare For Christmas

Today we went to hear the Winchester Cathedral boys and girls choristers sing Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols  during a lunchtime concert at Winchester Cathedral. I love the Ceremony of Carols, not least because I grew up listening to a CD recording of it. My dad owns that CD and we listened to it every Christmas (and still do when I visit). Hearing it performed by 50 boys and girls with their tiny voices floating up to the rafters of the cathedral was heavenly. But I realized that during the half-hour concert I was straining to hold on to the moment of listening to them, and afterwards I wanted to somehow wrap it up and take it home with me. But I couldn’t – it lives on only in my memory, and it’s settled happily there. I wouldn’t trade it. It made me think of the Nativity verse: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

All this is not to say that we can’t enjoy things that we own. Far from it. But how much happiness and contentment would come about through the enjoyment of things without owning them? In my experience, quite a lot. It sets us free from the burden of consumption when we take delight in each moment.

Still, I don’t think I can resist playing Britten’s piece over Spotify this Christmas. (Is streaming music online owning it, or merely enjoying it in a succession of fleeting moments? You decide.)