This is the second post in a three part series on the dangers of materialism. For an introduction to the subject, please read “The Scourge of Materialism.”
Our society has centered itself around materialistic pursuits. We place a high value on financial success, social status and the many symbols that represent both. Quite often, we push the people and activities that we love onto the back burner as we pursue the better job, the bigger house, the shinier car.
But these symbols of success have a price and we're not just talking about money. The costs of materialism are far broader than that. Their impact extends well beyond our bank accounts to our personal
We've been warned for eons by various forms of religion and schools of philosophy of the dangers of money, but researchers have begun to provide scientific evidence to back up these warnings.
Studies have measured individual's tendencies toward more materialistic values and then associated these scores with measures of life satisfaction, happiness, depression, and anxiety. The findings? The more focused a person is on buying and having, the less happy they tend to be. Materialistic values are associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, narcissism, dulled positive affect, substance abuse and health problems such as digestive disorders and headaches.
The decision to pursue wealth and possessions at all costs is a personal one. Many people make this choice. The problem is that this choice affects, not only the person making it but, those around him as well. People who hold material wealth in high esteem become increasingly willing to manipulate others with little concern for their well-being.
Now I am not suggesting that every person who wishes to enjoy the many wonderful things that money can buy is a crook, a swindler and a liar. But research, and real life, demonstrate that people who are in hot pursuit of money and power tend to behave in ways that are not in the best interests of those around them.
Think of corporate CEO's who enjoy multi-million dollar bonuses while lower level employees are laid off in droves. Think of politicians who vote against legislation designed to ease the burdens on everyday citizens to protect the interests of themselves and their wealthy friends. Think of employees who embezzle money from the charitable organizations that employ them. These people are clearly putting their own financial interests above those of their friends and neighbors. Why does a focus on materialistic values lead to such negative social behavior?
Research studies have shown that people are unable to hold conflicting values and that materialistic (extrinsic) values conflict with pro social (intrinsic) values. Values regarding wealth, social status or power simply outweigh and stamp out values regarding honesty, responsibility, kindness and social justice. Studies have also shown that people who are materialistically focused are less empathic, less generous and more manipulative.
If materialism is associated with a less caring attitude toward other people, it naturally follows that it would correlate with a less caring attitude toward the earth and it's non-human inhabitants as well. Industrialism and economic growth have taken a heavy toll on our world. In order to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for things, we have managed to wreak havoc on our world. In 200 years, we have created a lifestyle that may well lead to our extinction unless we make massive changes, and soon.
Research has found that materialistic people care less about protecting the environment, are less willing to make even small changes to benefit the environment and are more willing to overuse precious resources than those who have more intrinsic values. Look around and you will see that this is true and that the impact of such behavior is enormous.
So what now? We know that our preoccupation with material gain is harmful to ourselves, to those around us and to the world at large. What are we to do about it? How, in a culture that lives and breaths consumption, achievement, wealth and power are we to change our attitudes and behaviors in a way that is more life affirming, more socially responsible? It won't be easy, but there are ways of doing this. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series.
Much of the research information alluded to here was gleaned from an article by Tim Kasser in the book “A Life Worth Living” by Mahaly and Isabella Csikszentmihalyi.