This post is the third in a series on the dangers of materialism.
An unchecked focus on materialistic values can cause so much harm to us personally, to our relationships with others and to the ecosphere as a whole. In“The Scourge of Materialism” we learned that materialistic people are generally less happy and more likely to act in socially and environmentally damaging ways. In “The Costs of Materialism” we took a more in-depth look at the personal, social and ecological costs of materialism.
The result? We know that materialistic values are not congruent with a psychologically, socially and ecologically healthy way of life. But what, if anything, can we do about it? Living in a society that is built on the drive toward material gain, how can we manage to live a life based on more pro-social values? Is it even possible?
It is possible. We can hold and live in accordance with values that are beneficial to ourselves, our fellow humans and the world at large. Will it be easy? Not really. But like anything really worth having, living a life guided by positive, healthy values is worth working for.
There are many ways that we can try to stop the damaging impact of materialism on our lives. But we, as individuals, have to make the right choices and do the right things, often without the support of the larger society. Why? Because most of the solutions to the dangers of materialism undermine the status-quo and those who are benefiting most from the status quo don't want that to happen. So, our very worthwhile journey toward lives based upon intrinsic, pro-social values rather than extrinsic, materialistic ones begins with each of us struggling against the tide to do what we believe is right. Little by little, we find others who share our values and we begin to gain strength as we grow in numbers. Organizations form and join together in a common cause and from small seeds of change, broader change can grow.
As usual, any journey, no matter how great, begins with a single step. Here are some steps you can take to change yourself and change the world:
1.Reduce your exposure to materialistic messages: We are all bombarded continually by messages that suggest we need to make more money or have more things. The message can be hard to resist. So how can we reduce our exposure? Turn off the t.v. or at least hit the mute button when the commercials come on. Spend less time at the mall. Skip the gift shop at the local museum. Golf at the public links instead of the country club. Remove temptation wherever and whenever you can.
2.Do what you can to preserve commercial-free zones: Speak up at school board meetings to make sure that companies can't market their sugary sodas, unhealthy snacks and other products directly to your children in the school building or the school yard. Make sure corporate America isn't sponsoring your child's curriculum or supplying free samples on the playground to stimulate demand for their products. Protest corporate sponsorship and renaming of local stadiums and parks. Participate in fund raising drives to support the places that are desperate for financial support to reduce the likelihood of corporate sponsorship.
3.Push your elected officials to pass legislation that supports and encourages pro-social values.
4.Develop awareness and psychological resistance to materialistic messages and help others to do so: Take a course or read a book on media literacy. Understanding the way companies market and advertise their products can help you to recognize and ignore the many, sometimes subtle marketing messages that lead us into temptation. Teach your children to do the same.
5.Develop healthy coping skills: Retail therapy isn't just expensive...it's ineffective. Long-lasting happiness does not come from the purchase of more stuff. Develop an emotional support network, meditate, write in a journal...there are many ways to cope with stress that aren't damaging to yourself or your bank account.
6.Keep busy and get involved with activities that match your values: Volunteer to help animals at the ASPCA, donate a few hours a week to the local food kitchen, work with a local environmental organization to clean up a river or park. Engaging in pro social activities reinforces and strengthens your values (and leaves less time for thinking about stuff you want but don't really need).
This list is just the beginning of what you can do to fight against the scourge of materialism. Small changes in your own lifestyle can offer a positive example for others. Personal change leads to family change which leads to community change which eventually leads to world change. We can't wait for our elected officials or Wall Street players to wake up and change the way things are done. Change like this comes from the bottom-up.
What you do in your own life can have an impact on your country and your world, but only if you are willing to take those first steps. Are you already on the journey? What changes have you made in your life or your community? Please, share your ideas. You never know who you might inspire.