Becoming a Slave to Materialism
“Happiness is never found in materialistic things; it exists in things that cannot be physically possessed. Therefore, happiness is priceless. It can never be purchased.”
Ellen J. Barrier
"I WANT IT ALL!” WE all want those fancy clothes, exotic cars, multiple mansions, and even a private island. How do we acquire those things? We chase money, and then we become a slave to materialism. When you ask yourself, "Does it matter? Do I need these things to stand out in modern society?"
For the past few years, we’ve been accustomed to chasing our materialistic desires because of the advertisements we see every day from our phones, mainstream media and billboards.
During the tribal age, our ancestors used different kinds of hunting weapons. They needed them to survive, since living was very different then than it is today. They didn’t have clothing, houses and so on. They needed all the materials to survive.
Then the industrial age came. This is where mining for gold was born, factories and other inventions were born. The value of pursuing and living a materialistic lifestyle during the industrial age was different. People who lived that way were happy. Yes, they were well-known for their lifestyle, but a lot of them made a difference so that they could live that way. What I mean by making a difference is, inventing something that changed the world.
Poverty during those times was different compared to the poverty today.
In our current era, many people live a materialistic lifestyle for different reasons. Most people are hungry for wealth because they aren’t happy. They believe that success is measured by how fancy your lifestyle is and by measuring your salary. Hardship doesn't drive them. They use materialism to fill a hole in their life. This hole is their inner discontent.
These are the type of people who keep searching for the meaning of life, or they are don't know their purpose. Maybe because of family problems, a rough childhood or teenage years, or perhaps they were misinformed or miseducated. Life is tough.
Many education systems in our world teach the mindset of chasing wealth and materialism. They instill that mindset in these young kids who have dreams of changing the world to make a better place. These kids are full of energy, passion, and creativity. Unfortunately, as they grow up, those dreams die. Their creativity level is slowly turned into dust because the system tells them to live their lives in ways contrary to what their intuition tells them.
The system teaches them these three steps once they step out of school:
Get a job.
Buy the things you want.
Start and raise a family.
Do you agree with that list? A lot of people I know who graduated and have been working for a long time are following those steps. They get their happiness from wealth, and they aren’t happy with what they are doing. So what happened to our dreams, our visions we had when we were kids? They don’t fit in on that list.
Here’s what the list should be:
Get a job you love or start doing what you love.
Invest and save your money.
Learn how to live a simple life.
Start and raise a happy family.
Challenge the status quo.
Change the world even if only in a simple way.
Leave a great legacy.
That’s what the education system should teach their students. We only live once, so why not go all-in on our potential and goals? I remember a favorite quote of mine about leaving a legacy, “Do I even die if my ideas live forever?” Life is long if we know how to use it, and we have enough time to fulfill our vision. We have enough time to become our future self. The journey isn’t easy. Nothing in life is easy. Our mad chase for materials and wealth just feeds our ego.
Psychologists have conducted many studies about whether wealth and materialism could lead to happiness. All evidence failed to show this. After researching, psychologists have shown that there is no connection between wealth and happiness.
So what does it mean? Why do people chase wealth? Security, of course. When we have a lot of money, our future is secure and safe. We always want to have a better life. As parents we want our kids to have a better life than we did when we were at their age. The only exception in that study is the people who are genuinely experiencing poverty. These are people who are homeless and who live outside of the society’s standards. They are genuinely struggling to find that income to feed themselves and their family. They have a difficult time providing for the basic needs of a human being. Once they are able to afford necessities, a stressful burden is lifted off their shoulders, which often results in happiness. Unlike people who survive day-to-day, materialistic people want more.
This study has shown billionaires aren’t happier than people who earn an average income. As a matter of fact, billionaires have a higher chance of suffering from depression. A study from the Positive Psychology center in the University of Pennsylvania have concluded that happiness doesn’t come from wealth but from other factors, such as friendships, hobbies and ultimately having a passion and purpose.
Another reason why people chase wealth is for power. Money doesn’t make people happy, but it gives them the opportunity to take advantage and create misery for other people. That is what many companies do nowadays. People have carried this mindset throughout human history.
Do you think the reason why people get involved in politics is that they want to change the world and become a leader? Some of them maybe have that as their reason, but most of them want money and power. Politics is where the power is. Here in my country, a lot of people are vying for a legislative seat. Even though they aren’t qualified, they still file a certificate of candidacy. Why? Because they want the power and money. If they get that seat, they can get money from “under the table.” Or, they are just corrupt.
So what happens when they do that? Ordinary people suffer. The place that they have served can’t take the next step of progress or reach their full potential because the corrupt person only cares about their own desires.
A great story about materialism is the story of Buddha. Let’s historically view his story, not spiritually or religiously. Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini near the border of Nepal and India about 2,600 years ago. He was a child of a royal family. He lived in a castle, he was intelligent, compassionate, tall, handsome and robust.
Since he was a child of a royal family, his early life was filled with pleasure and materialistic pursuits. He could get anything he wants like women, opportunities for sports and other pleasurable desires. His father trained him to become a future king of India. However, since he didn’t know what it was like to live outside the castle, and his father isolated him, he thought that life was full of pleasure and fun.
At age 29, he went out of his palace with his attendant for the first time and saw an old man. He realized that one day everyone would grow old and be that man. During his second trip, he saw a sick man. The prince realized that he and everyone would get sick at some point during their life. During his third trip, he encountered a dead body. He realized that everyone would die someday. On the fourth trip, he met a monk who was happy, calm and peaceful.
On that day his life changed. He decided to leave the palace to pursue enlightenment and help people find peace and happiness. So, what does this story mean to you and everyone?
I included this story in this book because at some point in our lives we are just like Siddhartha Gautama. We are full of pleasure and pursuing a materialistic lifestyle that we thought could give us happiness. We forget that other people in this vast world don’t have what we have, yet some of them are happy, just like the monk that Siddhartha met during his fourth trip.
Not to sound nihilistic but we forget that one day we will get sick, grow old and die. No matter what your religion is, if you view Siddhartha Gautama’s story historically, it should be a lesson to all of us.
Nowadays, when we go to malls, it looks like a fashion show. I remember one time I went to a mall wearing slippers and shorts people looked at me like I was some kind of an alien. Some even stared at me because I was just wearing simple clothing. People all around us are showing off their fancy clothing or shoes, posing fancy and wacky pictures on Instagram or Facebook to show other people that they have things, or they are happy. However, are they delighted with what they are doing? Are they at peace with their own lives and to the other people around them? That’s what society is today.
We love to put a filter on our lives because deep inside we are lonely. We try to fit in all the time even though we don’t have to. What’s worse is some of these people are also broke. They just want society to see that they look good.
Look at successful people like Mark Zuckerberg. He doesn’t wear fancy clothing. In fact, he often wears the same shirt. Why? Because he doesn’t want to waste his energy on thinking about what he’ll wear throughout the day. As long as he can wear something, he is okay with that. Remember that materialism feeds our ego. We tend to compare each other’s lifestyle which is terrible. Our current society does that all the time.
No matter how many times we buy new things or compare each other’s lifestyle, our inner discontent and incompleteness never go away. It is just there inside, creating new desires time after time. Our ego tells us all the time, “It’s not enough. I want more!” Becoming a slave to materialism creates an endless loop of discontent and incompleteness.
How do we escape becoming a slave of materialism? We need to remember that we are whole and complete. As long as we have the essentials, we can live a happy life. We all know that life includes suffering. It’s up and down, and we don’t know what will happen next but we can reduce suffering.
One of the four noble truths of Buddhism is to stop suffering we must get rid of desire. That noble truth may be hard to accept at this time, however, if we want to achieve our purpose that will lead us to our version of success, we need to accept that noble truth.
So what’s going to be? Are you still going to waste money on unmeaningful things? Alternatively, will you invest it and secure your future? All I can say is learn to live a simple life. Your friends might mock you for living that way, but it’s not their opinion that matters. It’s yours.
“The most important things in life aren't things.” Anthony J. D'Angelo
*This piece is adapted from my book Roots: Success and Greatness Starts Within You. Haven't pre-ordered your copy? Click here to get exclusive pre-order gifts and bonuses