Less is more

Let’s face it, we are born and raised in materialism. And not only that, nothing seems powerful enough to stop this.

My kids are not kids any more. The one is in adolescence and the other one is just about to enter. My wife and I have always tried to control the amount of material our kids possess. Yet the storage room in the basement if full of toys. Where have we gone wrong?

From a psychological perspective, materialism is defined as “a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social image they project”. But this also has shown that it is both socially destructive and self-destructive. “It smashes the happiness and peace of mind of those who succumb to it. It’s associated with anxiety, depression and broken relationships.”

A paper in the Journal of Consumer Research studied 2500 people for a period of six years. The result shows a strong connection between materialism and loneliness as the one fosters the other. “People who are cut off from others attach themselves to possessions. This attachment in turn crowds out social relationships.”

In addition, research has shown that people are drawn to materialistic values because of two main factors. Firstly, people are more materialistic when they feel threatened or insecure. The reasons for these feelings depend on the individual case and these may also be unconscious ones. Secondly, people become materialistic when they are exposed to such messages that suggest such pursuits are important and would lead to acceptance and happiness. These messages can be transferred through the family environment, society, and most importantly in our days, through social media.

So back to the question “Where have we gone wrong?”, I wonder what any parent can do to protect his child from these messages.   Being bombarded daily from any kind of screen with messages of money, power and possession seems unstoppable, as is social decay. Despite this I refuse to follow the principle of “If you can’t beat it, join it”. Parents should keep their home values strong and make sure that their children incorporate them in their character. And character is that we should be building on.

If there is an unconscious belief that materials will fill an emotional emptiness, that hole would never seize to demand for more, and the person would never feel satisfied. Maybe materials would bring a relief, but that is temporary and hunger for more would show up again. When Henry Ford was asked what would he do now that he made his first million, he response was “I’ll make another one.”

A life whose wellbeing depends on materials is meaningless. No wonder man today than ever before is in desperate search for meaning. But as long as we restrict our morals and values within the spectrum of society’s values of money and power, man’s search for meaning is doomed. I’m reminded of Victor’s Frankl book “Man’s search for meaning.” Frankl, o holocaust survivor, managed to find meaning in the midst of physical and emotional abuse and torture in Auschwitz.  He concluded, among many other things, that man can only find meaning for his existence in something outside of himself. Our personal pursuits of pleasure (and happiness) through materialism and everything that that represents would, sooner or later, lead to despair, unless we choose to remain in ignorance of the values of life. Man needs to seek something higher.

I always turn to the Bible whenever I search for moral guidance, and this Holy book is full of them. God has never condemned the possession of money; patriarchs like Abraham and Isaac were very rich and blessed from God. Kind Solomon is considered to be the richest man ever to have walked on earth. Money is not the problem, the love of money is the problem. And that I believe is the main issue affecting all societies today. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Further, from the mouth of God Himself we hear, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)