We have come to associate the accumulation of things that money can buy as a symbol of a successful and happy life. Materialism is the belief that everything in the universe is matter and has no spiritual or intellectual existence. Researchers define it as “a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social image they project”. From this perspective, the goal of life is the accumulation of material objects. If we take a moment to think about this we would soon realize that we are (or at least once were, if we are lucky to have broken free) a prisoner of this value system.
When did the human species become so materialistic? In the olden days it was common to believe in both the psychical and non-physical world. It can be easily seen from the cave drawings, the sacred texts and myths of all ancient civilizations. This all changed with Galileo and Newton. They established scientific methods that would lead to the validation of materialism as the only true reality. Nietzsche was the first to use the term “God is dead” and this can be seen as the true beginning of materialism. Nietzsche argued that the entity we refer to as God, had no more significance for humans and thus did not exist. The notion of something that is non-physical is a governing force in the universe is seen by materialists as “hocus pocus” because it cannot be validated by empirical testing.
It is slowly dawning upon us that this materialistic perspective is not really working for us. We see the negative effects of this perspective in the form of less savings and higher consumer debt, personal bankruptcy and financial crises. It takes the physiological form of stress, depression, anxiety and mental exhaustion from overwork. Research has shown that materialism is negatively associated with a person’s happiness. It seems that it is both socially and individually destructive.
The Journal of Motivation and Emotion published a series of studies in July 2013, which showed that when people are more materialistic their wellbeing diminishes. Wellbeing was defined in terms of their relationships, the independence and their sense of purpose in life. When these same individuals became less materialistic the studies found that their wellbeing rose. It’s funny though that we needed empirical evidence to prove what we know intuitively. It is not enough for people to listen to us when we speak from the “heart”. It’s not scientific or rational. It is okay to find the same answers but we must do so using a scientific approach. We must engage in empirical testing and find the evidence to show that what we hypothesize intuitively is in fact true. In other words we use a materialistic approach to show or prove that the materialistic perspective of life is flawed. Go figure!
When it comes to materialism, it is not exclusive to creed or race. Everyone is susceptible to its pull men, women, rich and poor. It is a social condition that we have all bought into and is fed by government and corporate policies. We have to take the time and stop and ask ourselves why we are constantly chasing material possessions. What are we hoping to gain from this? Why is it we see it as a reflection of our self-worth. It is time that we question those who are feeding us this story. And more importantly, question ourselves as to why we believe it?
As a parent, I feel it is my duty to find answers to these questions for myself. I see it as my responsibility to give my children the best foundation I can in all aspects of their lives. Intuitively, I know that a life lived for the sake of accumulation and comparison cannot be a happy one and the research supports this contention. In a paper entitled “Understanding Materialism among Youth” published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, (2003) the researchers found that in the United States, young people who were very materialistic had a negative attitude towards school. This resulted in poor performance in school. The researchers went on to suggest that this can lead to sexual promiscuity, drug addictions and even suicides. Grim results indeed.
In an article entitled “Growing up in a Material World: Age Differences in Materialism in Children and Adolescents”, published in the Journal of Consumer Research (2007) the researchers found that a young person’s peer group, exposure to media and family affect the extent of the growth of materialistic values through the impact on self-esteem. This means that it is important who your children keep as friends. What they watch on television and what they are exposed to online. More importantly, we have to ensure that we teach them how to value themselves. If we as parents don’t separate the accumulation of material possession from our sense of self-worth, then we will not be in a position to help our children break free from the grips of materialism. We are their first teachers and they learn by watching us. If ever there a time to practice what we preach it is now.
I have a suggestion for you today. Take a moment and think about whether or not you have a materialistic value system. If you find that you have such a value system and are willing to admit it, then have to ask whether you want to change it or not. The answer may surprise you. Change isn’t always easy or welcomed. Change requires a strong motivation. Is it so that you can stop stressing so much and sleep better at night or are you doing it for the sake of the next generation? My reason is my children. I want them to be able to value themselves for who they are and not what they possess. What’s your reason for change?