Materialism can either refer to the simple preoccupation with the material world, as opposed to intellectual or spiritual concepts, or to the theory that physical matter is all there is. In today’s world, people are more concerned with what they have instead of who they are which is what materialism stands for.
Materialism can be defined as a dominating sense of desire to pursue wealth and other tangible things that can provide physical comforts that ignores the importance of spiritual values. Researchers define materialism as a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social image they project.
Materialism stands in contrast to idealism, which takes spirit, idea, mind, thought, the psychic, and the subjective as its point of departure. Recognition of the primacy of matter implies that it was not created but always existed, that space and time are objectively existing forms of its being, that thought is inseparable from matter that thinks, and that the unity of the world consists in its materiality.
However, materialism is considered to be a part of human nature and thus, it is inseparable from the human self. There is a good side of materialism too. Material objects can be said to play a positive psychological or spiritual role in our lives when more positive ideals are ‘materialised’ in them, and so when buying and using them daily gives us a chance to get closer to our better selves. When they are contained in physical things, valuable psychological qualities that are otherwise often intermittent in our thoughts and conduct can become more stable and resilient. This is not to say that all consumerism just conveniently turns out to be great. It depends on what a given material object stands for. An object can transubstantiate the very worst sides of human nature – greed, callousness, the desire to triumph – as much as it can the best. So one must be careful not to decry or celebrate all material consumption: we have to ensure that the objects we invest in, and tire ourselves and the planet by making, are those that lend most encouragement to our higher, better natures.
There has long been a correlation observed between materialism, a lack of empathy, engagement with others, and unhappiness. Researches show that as people become more materialistic, their well-being, autonomy, and sense of purpose diminishes. But when they become less materialistic, the same rises. Materialism promotes many other negative feelings as well like lust, selfishness, jealousy, sense of hopelessness, etc. Materialism also blocks one’s inner growth.
Materialism also leads to an increase in anxiety and depression. People also become more competitive and more selfish, have a reduced sense of social responsibility and become less inclined to join in demanding social activities. However, these are the temporary effects and are only triggered when people are continuously exposed to images of luxury and messages that cast them as consumers in the first place.
There is a two-way relationship between materialism and loneliness: materialism fosters social isolation; isolation fosters materialism. The main reason behind this is that people who cut off themselves from others are the ones who attach themselves to material possessions. Materialism also forces people into comparison with the possession of others. The material pursuit of self-esteem reduces one’s self-esteem.
However, it can be said that too much of materialism is never good.Thus, to prevent the influence of materialism from blocking our inner growth, we need to set ourselves free from the material world, and recognize the real self that lies within us. It is only in this way that individuals can benefit the society.
As quoted by Anthony J. D’Angelo, “The best things in life aren’t things.”
Feature Image Credits: Nicky Cullen