What does mainstream culture say about happiness? What does it tell us we need to be happy? Do we need fame and tonnes of money? Or do we need meaningful connections with others? A sense of purpose? A sense of self-respect?
Be careful not to get sucked in by mainstream media and social media. Modern society has a tendency to derail us and con us, and convince us that to be happy we need to buy lots of stuff and we’ll only find happiness if we have a credit card and spend heaps of money while watching late-night infomercials. Dr Tim Kasser has spent decades studying materialism and his results are conclusive. Being obsessed with possessions and buying new possessions will not only fail to make us happy but will ultimately lead to misery. It is true that we need enough money to be secure. We need a place to live, clothes, food and health care but if we become obsessed with just accumulating wealth and more and more possessions we will suffer an emotional toll that includes insecurity and depression.
The High Price of Materialism
Dr Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College in the US, has just published a book, The High Price of Materialism. He believes that people began to equate happiness with possessions in the 1950s. Materialist values (the focus on wealth, status, image, and possessions) became commonplace in post-war advertisements. The American dream moved from personal freedom to having a big house with two-car garage and lots of white goods like fancy refrigerators and new washing machines. This trend ramped up through the 1980s. I remember the 1980s. Madonna released her song, ‘I’m a material girl, living in a material world’. Today the world seems to be controlled by big business.
Dr Kasser warns readers that everyday people are bombarded with ads telling us that the ‘good life’ is only attainable through the ‘goods life’. We have to make money so we can buy goods that make us feel loved and valued – other people can no longer give us that. At the same time, politicians tell us that consumer spending must keep rising or the world as we know it will end. In the US around $150 billion goes into advertising and encouraging people to SPEND and buy more goods. Now advertising has invaded our personal lives. First celebrities took on roles of ‘influencers’ encouraging people to buy products now ordinary people are becoming ‘influencers’ – spruiking products through Facebook and Twitter in the hope of getting freebies from marketers. Where will it end?
Value people over possessions
Dr Kasser reminds us that the people who value possessions over people and relationships are the unhappiest people of all. They rarely feel joyous emotions and according to the experts have higher rates of depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol use, but our consumer society just egg them on! Research has also found that the more people fixate on owning stuff, the less community minded they become. They do not give to charity or volunteer their time for good causes. They begin to cut their connections to society. People who always are thinking about money are less kind and sympathetic to their friends, family and neighbours, and they forget to engage with nature. They forget to go for walks or visit national parks, and they don’t take care of their environment. They litter, stop recycling and become wasteful with food.
So what is the way forward?
I have always said it is fine to prosper. It is good to make money, especially if you can share your wealth with the less fortunate. But do not become obsessed with getting rich and sacrifice other areas of your life. Researchers have found that people want to buy and own more possessions when they are not feeling good about themselves.
If you have self-doubts or your relationship has broken down, you may be inclined to think that buying stuff is going to make you feel happier. If you have suffered a deep hurt to your sense of self, do not think it can be repaired with money and buying goods. A better solution is to reach out to the people who love you, or do something creative that makes you happy like paint or sew or write or build. Maybe you should walk on the beach or swim.
Realise also that constant exposure to advertising can make you more materialistic. It is okay to use an ad blocker when online or to limit time on social media or mute the ads on TV. Dr Kasser says we need to go even further than that. We should campaign to have ads removed from public spaces so people are less exposed to materialistic messages.
Society needs to value what is real
Dr Kasser also wants society to start placing more value on what is really important – community connectedness, family, friendship, personal growth and protecting the environment. He says research shows these values strengthen individuals and society, and they also help people become resistant to advertising. They no longer believe happiness lies in buying more possessions. Dr Kasser says as individuals we need to lead lives that matter. That might mean leaving a job you hate for one that means something to you – remember, I’ve always told you to turn your passion into a profit! Dr Kasser also recommends volunteering for good causes and spending time with people you love. This is all good advice. He also says we need to vote for politicians who value people’s happiness above economics and domestic growth. It is no good being materialistically rich if we are spiritually and emotionally impoverished.
The world can break free of consumerism
Dr Kasser says consumerism has the world in its grip but we can break free. We need to make changes personally and do good work in our community. That will lead to a more humane society and a more sustainable world. To me this all makes sense.
Those of you who read my words will know that I am all about prosperity. Money can do good. I say go ahead and make money – if you can help others and use your money to strengthen your relationships. Use your money to take your family on a holiday and make memories you will all have forever. But do not believe that making money will fill your life with happiness because you have no family or friends or meaningful relationships. Money can never plug that hole – only love can. Money is a tool. Use it to do good, do not use it to fill an empty life.
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ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.