Alleviating Emotions with Materialism: The Psychology Behind Obtaining More & More Things
What if your happiness lies in letting go of the crutch of materialism so you can see your life, your decisions, and what you want more clearly?
It seems like we are told that we need to purchase, obtain, or acquire something everywhere we turn. Ads, commercials, pop-ups, links—we can’t avoid them. Unless, of course, we decide to entirely forego using the Internet and social media, eliminate use of our smartphones, and stop watching TV or listening to the radio altogether. We would likely have to avoid entering any public area, too, where there is commerce, billboards, vehicles, and even people, for that matter. Materialism is all around us in some way, shape, or form. We have been conditioned to believe that possessions and services are not only luxuries that provide temporary pleasure and fleeting enjoyment, but they are instead much more critical to our existence. Since our early, formative years, we have been taught that material possessions are not meant to simply entertain us but are instead equated with need. Various forms of advertisement and social messages that exist all around us provide convincing claims to support why we must spend our money to collect these various needed objects and services.
Materialism contributes to and maintains an ongoing cycle where people must spend most of their waking hours committed to their jobs. Long hours at work are a necessity for most of the population—a necessity that doesn’t just provide us with the basics to survive, like food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. We also work long days and extensive hours—often in jobs that don’t bring us joy or meaning—so that we can buy all those things, the things we have been taught to believe we need.
Society has come up with some pretty persuasive arguments to make us believe that we genuinely need things—material things that don’t fall under the category of ‘stuff we need to survive.’ So, we are further taught to believe that we need material things to be happy. Aha! This is how we step into the vicious cycle that many of us remain in for life. Materialism equals happiness. Few are brave enough to defy this rule.
This belief system has worked to convince many human beings and many societies for a long time. And, if you think about it, the cycle maintains itself because of the simple fact that to purchase all this stuff we’re told we need, we work long hours in jobs we dislike, leaving us stressed, burned out, and in a constant state of neglecting our self-care. By Friday, most working people are emotionally and/or physically drained and in need of a boost so, many spend the weekend focusing on seeking out their material fix by spending much of the money they just earned at restaurants, bars, malls, and retail stores. All to fill the void; to add some pleasure to their lives; to ‘reward’ themselves after a long work week; to remind themselves that this is why they work 40 plus hours per week, don’t get to see their families that much, or don’t get to invest any quality time in themselves and their dreams and goals. Once the money is spent, yet another need arises—an imminent need—to go back to work on Monday. This cycle continues until retirement, and even beyond, for a large majority of the population.
Materialism is the culprit of this issue. Materialism and the belief that we need things to be happy, that we won’t be happy unless we spend our money, and that we can’t find happiness unless there is money available to us to be spent. Materialism allows many people to mask emotional needs and voids. Imagine for a moment how your life would be without it. On Friday, you might go straight home and stay home rather than meet friends at a restaurant or stop by your local shopping mall or plaza. You might spend the weekend relaxing in your living room, reading, or learning something new. There would be no outings or major expenditures to distract you, so you might get into some sort of new hobby or activity. You might make greater use of the forms of entertainment you already have or own. You might enjoy more meaningful, quality time with loved ones, friends, or pets in the absence of material distractions. Maybe you’ll have time for more walks outdoors and exercise to energize and rejuvenate your body. Monday finally comes, and you return to work. Your expenses were minimal—maybe you just incurred the cost of a grocery store trip.
Imagine this scenario repeating itself week after week. There is undoubtedly an adjustment period that would likely occur. You may feel bored or in need of more stimulation. Maybe you will have much more time to think—about your problems or your many dissatisfactions with life. Thoughts and emotions that you’ve managed to push away for a long time may surface in the absence of material distractions.
Something else that could happen is that you find that with time, you have a little more money in the bank—may be a lot more. Decreasing or eliminating materialism has this effect on the finances of most people. Removing yourself from the cycle has its detriments because the crutch of buying goods and services is no longer present to conceal the fact that you hate your job; that you’re depressed; that your life lacks meaning; that you no longer connect with your partner or spouse; or that you feel you’re not making any real progress in your life. However, you also tap into a very significant source of freedom. Materialism holds many people captive to a life that, deep down, they don’t want. Still, they feel trapped—committed to feeding into the cycle in order to maintain that illusory source of happiness alive.