Emotional IntelligencePhilosophy

Is Materialism necessarily a bad thing?

6 Mins read

Materialism has for so long been seen as the root of all evil, well that is not quite right, money is said to be the root of all evil, but you get my point.

Social awareness is part of emotional intelligence that involves us understanding other people, being empathetic to their struggles, way of life and principles, this is all with the aim of learning to get along, learn from each other and be able to dive deeper into our levels of self awareness and self management.

Materialism has always been something that we all struggle with, we all seem to chase after it while we shun those who are materialistic at the same time. The fine line between being materialistic and anti-materialistic is so thin that we don’t know where to draw the line.

The Bible has been quoted countless times saying that “Money is the root of all evil”, that “It is easier for a camel to go through the pin hole than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom Of Heaven.”

You have had of Buddhists and other spiritually oriented people shun the very existence of the materialistic world, They claim that their is much happiness to be found in the pursuit of spiritual things and the million little things rather than there is in the pursuit of material wealth and possessions.

You may have bumped into countless YouTube videos that speak on the downsides of materialism urging you to get rid of all your material possession if you want to be happy and have a more fulfilling life. Here is one that tells you to get out of the materialism trap now:

Are they saying the truth though? Should we all abandon our pursuit of material wealth and riches. Should we all become monks and live a cashless existence. Should we all stop being consumed by consumerism and and say no to everything that is materialistic?

The social awareness and correct representation of materialism is vital, and as far as I can tell, we seem to be misrepresenting it.

Materialism as a philosophy

As a philosophy, materialism is basically the belief that everything is or can be explained in relation to matter. That life and the universe as a whole can be quantified and related to in terms of matter.

But that is not the type of materialism I wanna talk about, I wanna talk about the social concept of materialism that is fueled by consumerism and capitalism.

Materialism as a social concept.

Materialism is defined as putting more emphasis and importance on material things, wealth and money over anything else such as spirituality. It’s the belief that there is more joy and happiness to be found in the pursuit of material things more than anything else.

Materialism involves buying goods and products that are not necessarily needed for a human to flourish. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs, it is clearly seen that possession of riches doesn’t bring happiness or satisfaction to the human soul but rather results in us needing something more, and the circle goes on and on.

“It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?

At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency” (Maslow, 1943)

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

Maslow’s Hierachy Of Basic Needs

As you may know, the basic needs are the most important of all the needs we have. As we go up the hierarchy, we tend to start focusing on less materialistic things. This goes so far to show that material things become less important to your needs the higher you go. Achievements, psychological needs and self fulfillment needs are more important at the top of the scale.

However, it is important to note, that the realization of your goals and dreams often involves the chasing of material things in conjunction with self fulfillment goals. They correlate.

Is materialism a bad thing?

Alain de Botton, a modern Swiss philosopher, dives deep into this concept of materialism in the video below, he shows how materialism goes hand in hand with obtaining our self fulfillment needs.

He argues that most of us are stuck in between being materialistic and not being materialistic. We tend to strive to uphold our spiritual virtues whereas trying to fight our impulses that are pushing us towards materialism.

He says that the pursuit of material things ends up instilling virtuous ideals in us such as generosity, charity, confidence and self esteem. It is through the pursuit of possessions and material things that we end up conquering our worst fears as we strive to be the best that we could ever be.

Materialism continues to fuel a lot of industries especially fashion, it is undeniable that sometimes we end up buying things that we do not need, however, it should be noted that buying things that you do not need isn’t materialism in its own sense, that is greed.

Greed can be fueled by an excessive obsession with materialism, it is one of the downsides of being materialistic. I think that is why Jesus said:

 “I’ll say it again-it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of A needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Matthew 19:24

It is hard for a rich person who is consumed by materialism to let his material possession go. The more you get accustomed to a material thing the harder it is to let it go, same thing applies to everything in life. As humans we are prone to wanting stability, we don’t like unrest or any form of disturbance. That is why we have rules, regulations and policies so that we can have order and peace.

Once that stability is threatened we find it hard to let go of what we once held dear. Therefore, what we get accustomed to ends being part of who we are, therefore, losing it or just giving it away becomes a tremendously difficult thing to do. That is why its written:

” You can’t serve both God and Money, you will love one and despise the other.”

Choose your master carefully, what you hold dear to your heart will govern everything that you do. Materialism comes with a good number of cons which you should consider:

  1. Fuels greed – the pursuit of materialism may result in greed that cannot be quenched, a dependence on the material world will never end if material things are what brings you joy. Let your happiness be a by product of materialism not what pushes you to materialism. Buy that car because you love its design not because you think it can fill a void in your life.
  2. Self torture and high expectations-we live in a world where success and happiness is counted by the riches you have. This has bred a generation that continuously tortures itself to seek material things in the hopes of being happy. The truth is that most of us will live ordinary lives, and the sooner we realize there is happiness everywhere, the sooner we will prevent ourselves from self destruction.

Materialism is bad if it leads you into a self centered type of lifestyle where you use your wealth for self gratification and selfish intent alone. Selfish materialism results in continuous dependence on a material world that will never quench your thirst because when you reach a certain level of wealth, money dependent happiness becomes a constant.

Research has shown that happiness increases with income, but it peaks off. The idea that more money does not buy more happiness comes from evidence that after a point, emotional wellbeing does not have anything to do with how much money a person has. And this can be seen from the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs.

Good health, strong relationships, social bonding, care, nurturing and love are all essential ingredients to emotional wellbeing, and more money does not offer higher doses of these emotions. We like to talk about money not being everything because these associations of wellbeing are known to us.

So yes, it is somehow true that money can’t buy happiness. Well, it can but to some point. However, it should be noted that the pursuit of these higher level needs such as self-actualization and fulfilling one’s full potential are greatly held back if these low level needs are not met.

To sum up, materialism isn’t a bad thing, actually it can be what you need to be happy, materialism itself won’t bring you happiness, but will pave way for you to have a chance of chasing the things that will. If you live your life based on the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs and have an ethically moral standpoint on the spread of money, charity and service to the society, materialism will be of great help.

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About author
I'm a psychology enthusiast and a fried chicken lover. I write bite sized articles unpacking the complexities of the human mind. The mission is to advocate for what's more important in life - the pursuit of the truth and the highest good one can do with that truth - for themselves, the people around them and the society as a whole.
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