The High Price of Materialism (Book Review)
There have been numerous scientific studies on materialism (often as questionnaires and clinical evaluations). These studies have tested subjects from different sexes, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, cultures, educations, and ages. What has been consistently found is a correlation between lower psychological/physical well-being and materialism. Those who value financial success, status among their peers, an urge to buy more, and so on, show a higher tendency toward narcissism, social anxiety, depression, lower self-worth, and unhappiness, in comparison to subjects who value their personal autonomy, self-acceptance, and integrity. What is more, those who strive for materialistic goals, such as buying the newest phone or becoming popular, test higher for negative traits (e.g. possessiveness, envy, insecurity). Materialistic people focus on meaning through extrinsic rewards, undermining their quality of life. They may seek happiness outside themselves, such as when posting a selfie on Facebook for validation, buying a fast hotrod to show to all the neighbors, or spending hours styling their hair to match the latest trends. Those who value intrinsic rewards, such as in intimate friendships, self-acceptance, meaningful work, and community involvement, show a higher quality of life. In some cases, materialistic values are symptoms of deeper unfulfillment. They’re expressions of unhappiness, an emptiness of craving. These patterns are a confusion of authentic needs with desires. Clinging to owning more, showing off to peers, and cultivating a happy persona, may be signs of insecurity and fear (in relation to self, family, community, etc.), acting as a socially accepted coping mechanism, one that delivers short-term, but unsubstantial, relief. By coping through consumption, feelings of insecurity may even deepen. People will buy more, strive to maintain their status, in a futile attempt to hide from their pain. Consequently, their “solution” then becomes an added problem to deal with their original problems. What’s also essential to a high quality of life is social connectivity. Materialistic values, such as wealth and status and image, conflict with the values of close relationships and a stronger community. Rather than working closely in the community, materialistic people score lower on traits of generosity and empathy, while scoring higher in isolation and conflict. Materialistic individuals often go into activities already craving their extrinsic rewards (praise, applause, recognition). They don’t look for joy in the intrinsic satisfaction of striving in the moment, challenging themselves and learning in struggle. They seek rewards, not a flow-state of experience. They’re drawn to passive activities that give them immediate pleasure, such as watching TV or YouTube videos or checking Facebook (consuming), rather than focusing on authentic experiences. They follow paths of conformity, wanting their praise, rather than doing what is uncertain or challenging. Materialistic paths lead to feelings of loss, dependence on the approval of others, a need to appear a certain way to seem favorable, while losing their freedoms. By pursuing paths of authenticity and autonomy, people can learn to rely on themselves for motivation, happiness, freedom, and joy. Only when people can recognize the materialistic messages, which flash from computer and TV screens, billboards and corporations, social media sites and magazine covers, can they work to break their patterns. Then they can focus on what intrinsically makes their lives worthwhile.