Are we working towards happiness in life? If so, we have
thousands of examples to see of people who have been
"successful" in acquiring material wealth, but who
have been miserably empty inside.
Do we feel that we'll
reach a level of peace and contentedness by having more
things? Again, we have tons of anecdotal evidence that
tells us that the feeling of contentedness that comes from
buying something fades rather quickly after the purchase is
made, leaving us feeling just as empty as before.
feel that by acquiring just the right material goods, they can
make other people see them in a positive light. In other
words, they buy their new car or clothes or electronic gadget
in order to impress others. They're often setting
themselves up for great disappointment when others don't react
as they think they should.
as an adjective means tangible, touchable, real,
physical. One dictionary's third definition of the word
as an adjective says, "Of or concerned with the physical
as distinct from the intellectual or spiritual."
When we become focused on materialism, then, we're spending a
great deal of time and energy on something that is completely
apart from our intellectual and spiritual selves. We may
rationalize and claim that if we obtain a certain material
object then we'll be more at peace spiritually, but that
simply cannot be the case.
Dickens knew all about materialism, and he gave us the
character of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol to
illustrate the problems with materialism. As a youth,
Scrooge was treated very poorly by his family, which led him
to look to money as a form of security, something that he
could trust. His love for money leads him to lose the
woman he loves, and after that he leads a lonely, bitter
existence as his life becomes simply a quest for more and more
show, him, though, just how many people are able to be happy
at Christmas without the benefit of material wealth, and this
helps to lead him to see just how flawed his thinking has
been, and just how miserable he has become by focusing only
upon the material and never cultivating friendships,
relationships, or spiritual growth. Once his focus
shifts from the material to the spiritual, Scrooge is able to
become a happy man.
We also see
the same thing in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by
Doctor Seuss. After he steals virtually all of the
material reminders of Christmas from Whoville, the Grinch
waits to hear their cries of despair as the Whos wake up in
the morning. Instead of wailing, though, he hears them
singing--even though they had had material wealth and many
presents and a great feast, their focus was still on their
spiritual side. The spirit of Christmas "came
without ribbons! It came without tags! It came
without packages, boxes, or bags!"
obvious that while the Whos enjoy their material goods, they
are not essential to their happiness. They are able to
be happy without them.
I know that
in my life, I've very often set my sights on some material
product, thinking that I'd be much happier if I had it.
Sometimes I spent money I couldn't really afford on something,
and sometimes I just charged it, whether I had the money to
pay for it or not. (I'm lucky, though, because I've
never had expensive tastes. I shudder to think where I'd
be if I did.) Never has a purchase made me a happier
person, and sometimes after the newness has worn off I've even
felt a great sense of regret that I've bought something that I
didn't use nearly as much as I thought I did.
have a strategy for determining whether I truly need
something, or if this something is simply appealing to my
desire for material goods. First of all, I wait to buy
things that aren't essential--impulse buys can build up very
quickly. If I truly need it, I'll still need it in two
weeks. If not, the urge to buy it usually will fade
I also try
to look at my interactions with other people as objectively as
I can. Are we talking about things and gadgets, or are
we talking about things that matter, like how to become better
teachers or parents or friends? How do I feel if someone
criticizes something that I have? I truly should feel
nothing--the criticism's about the thing, not about me.
been working for a while at getting rid of things that I've
had for a long time, but simply don't use. Each time I
get rid of something, it's a very good lesson to me about just
how much crap I've acquired, and just how much time and money
I've spent acquiring it when that time and money might have
been used for something much more constructive.
materialists to some extent, and there are many material goods
that are helpful and even necessary to us. But is our
materialism so strong that it keeps us from focusing on the
truly important aspects of our lives? Are we neglecting
important parts of ourselves simply because we're focused
strongly on attaining material goods? That's a question
that each individual can answer for only him or herself.