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Does Materialism Breed Unhappiness?

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Below is a guest post from LAL from LivingAlmostLarge and LAL Musings. I'll let her introduce herself: "I'm a twenty-something DINK, living in the northeast searching for financial freedom. I hope to one day live large and be financially free, but it'll only happen one step at a time. I admit to not being the most frugal or smartest financial blogger, but I think I'm giving a real perspective on the challenges faced by many other young adults. So please stop on by. I have a couple of giveaways going on including a 1 year subscription to Money Magazine if you subscribe to my RSS or Email feeds."

This week I read this post called "Materialism breeds unhappiness, " by Embrace Living. The writer suggests that as a society we use material possessions to value ourselves. Thus it breeds discontent and unhappiness because we are constantly wanting the newest fashions, etc.

She says that there is something within that is wrong with you that causes you to want material possessions. That we have to investigate what it is, work on it, and become happier. I guess she's preaching the idiom "Money can't buy happiness."

Honestly do I think that? Well let me say this, money can't buy happiness, but it can certainly make you feel better. And anyone who says money can't buy happiness hasn't been poor. I am not knocking this chick, I don't even read her blog. But BTDT [Editor's note: is it a sign that I'm old that it took me three minutes to realize that this is "been there, done that"?] about being poor and HELL NO I'm not going back.

I believe money buys me freedom and peace of mind. It allows me the freedom to choose where I live, how I live, and what I buy. I honestly like having new clothes that fit instead of used hand-me downs. I like having better wine than $2 chuck. I like eating fresh fruits and veggies instead of canned. I enjoy playing my Nintendo Wii and having two dogs. Luxuries all of it. My DH definitely lusts after an iPhone or iTouch. Will it make him happy? Yes. Will he want something more? Doubtful, he's been lusting after the iphone since it came out and still hasn't gotten one. Think of it as delayed gratification

Are we materialistic? I guess so. Are we unhappy? Not really. Do we desire to earn more money? HELL YES. But I have very specific goals in mind. I want to be independently well off enough to quit my job if I hate it at the drop of a hat. I want to be able to pay for my children's college, and maybe even a home down payment or wedding. I want to be able to drive a car without worry that it'll break down all the time. I want to be able to provide for my parents (and in-laws) in case they need financial support.

So yes I'm materialistic. I'm also realistic. Money may not buy happiness, but it sure helps. Being poor doesn't mean you are any happy. One could argue you are even more unhappy because you struggle to get out your circumstances. That you would love to new clothes, fresh food, etc.

So maybe over materialism breeds unhappiness. People who just spend for the sake of spending. People who are thousands of dollars in debt and need to go to debtor's anonymous. Or perhaps those rich people who can spend money like water and never run out. Then perhaps materialism breeds unhappiness.

But to me it's not materialism that breeds unhappiness. It's the person themselves. It's not about material goods. You can have no material goods and be unhappy. Happiness is from within and wanting material goods doesn't make you a bad person.

Thanks to Lazy Man for allowing me to do this guest post. Please stop by my blog, I enjoy tons of feedback.

Posted on March 27, 2009.

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10 Responses to “Does Materialism Breed Unhappiness?”

  1. kosmo @ The Casual Observer says:

    I think there is a happy medium. You can enjoy material things without being consumed by the pursuit.

    Do I like being able to afford things? Certainly. Would I work twice as many hours to make twice as much money? Certainly not.

  2. WorkHomePlay says:

    Thanks for sharing! I totally agree with LAL. A lot of people have the simple goal of financial stability. This includes being able to provide for others (kids, extended family, etc.) People are generally happier when they have these abilities. They’re empowered by the choice to buy something or not. Also, the work it takes to achieve financial stability makes a person happy. The end result is sometimes just icing on the cake.

  3. Miranda says:

    I think materialism is more about when you try to hang your entire happiness on THINGS. If all you care about is things, it’s hard to be happy because you can’t ever get enough. It’s impossible! Enjoying things, and having things is different from converting things into your idea of status and happiness. If you always want more, you’ll never be satisfied. If you view more as a bounty to enjoy, I think it’s easier to find contentment.

  4. I enjoyed the post! Things like The 100 Thing Challenge have done wonders for my overall view on “stuff”. I also agree that is nothing wrong with enjoy materialistic things as long as that doesn’t negatively effect your financial, spiritual, family, or physical portions of your overall life!

  5. Abigail says:

    I think a line needs to be drawn between “materialism” and “rampant materialism.”

    Lots of people want creature comforts above and beyond the basics. That doesn’t mean we think the next purchase will bring the joy that has thus far eluded us.

    I think rampant materialism (keeping up with the Joneses etc) is where you get into trouble. When you have to have things because you just have to. When you always need to have the newest and best. And when you’re constantly chasing that thrill of a new purchase.

  6. MoneyEnergy says:

    lol, editor,…. I also didn’t know what BTDT was… and it’s only because you added your editor’s note that I learned it – and I’m definitely not old! I do know other abbreviations:)

    The other woman’s argument is certainly true that in general we do, to some extent, value ourselves through things we own. I’m speaking as someone who doesn’t even have a TV or her own car yet let alone a house or a second car. I would characterize my own materialist tendencies as minimalist (and I’m still in grad school). I guess the argument I would make is that there is an intimate relationship between how our minds work and the things in our environment. That’s why clearing out clutter helps so much.

  7. Geoff K says:

    I agree with the LAL about unhappiness being unrelated to materialism. It’s just that many people with various internal problems often try to make themselves feel better by spending. Buying things provides a temporary high to them. Addressing the need, or internal feelings in the first place, is probably a lot more effective way to be happier.

    Also I think focusing on and finding pleasure and enjoyment in what you have, and your relationships, goes a long way to having a happy life.

  8. I don’t think materialism is what makes people unhappy. I think materialism is a product of being unhappy. Whenever we’re down and out, most of us turn to either food or shopping. If we’re always feeling down, we can accumulate a lot of stuff that way. I think unhappiness is something that comes from within, and if you’re not happy in life, you have to examine the root, not what’s come about because of it.

  9. Eckart Tolle follower says:

    Materialism causes us to be greedy, wanting loads of things, this fuels our ego’s which causes suffering to ourselves and to others. It also causes people to cut themselves off from other people and not trust each other. For example, getting the train, people rush on and fight to get on, they always put themselves first, and when you are on the train people ignore each other, If you start talking other people think you are crazy. People have to WAKE UP! and REALISE that they are not the most important thing in this world! there are millions of people on this Earth and people should respect and acknowledge each other. Everyone is Equal. We were all born into this world and we will all die in this world. Materialistic items have no meaning. All we need in this world is each other doesn’t matter whether you are poor, rich, from different backgrounds, To be happy is to live in the Present Moment in the Now. All Moments will pass, you move from one moment to the next.

  10. James Smith says:

    Hi: Just wanted to leave a note on Maslow’s five needs and say I leave it because I believe you are correct:
    What if Maslow is this simple:
    the basic needs are met getting as much as you possibly can. More is better. More more more more more more more! Having more is the secret to basic life.

    Now they have so much about those things you definitely feel secure. Comfy cozy all his grand everybody’s happy and there’s insurance too. The richer we are the more Gates we can put up, the more insurance we can buy, the more guns we can afford to protect ourselves with, and the deeper motes we can date him fill with their boats.

    It is Very natural if you are very rich and feel very secure and also surrounded with friends and sense of belonging this beautiful. This is Maslow’s third need belonging it’s met easily by being rich and having lots of things.

    It’s a bit tricky to convince ourselves that we have more because we deserve more because we are more than because beyond us there is no more than “me”. It can be the ultimate ego trip very spiritually, sophisticatedly, and socially embedded. If we can rationalize to ourselves a story and fully believe it then we can be truly happy all the days our lives as long as all of our things stay intact. Certainly we need to have the feeling is that we’ve earned that which makes everything just perfect. It may be true it’s up to you but just be sure you get more and more and more.

    Now that you’ve gotten so much more and been so successful because of your amazing talents, and God knows how high IQ brain, you can find poor people and you can change them so that they can have the ability to get more. As they get more than they’ll have everything you have but you just don’t want to give them yours (with the generous tax break), they have to get their own. You’ll show them how because you are brilliant, spiritual, and glorious. You are actualized and you’ll help them reach that high point one day if they learn to be understanding all that you understand. Wonder why they didn’t understand in the first place

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