Materialism in Society (A brief guide)

In this guide, we will discuss Materialism in Society and the perspective of some people that consider it as a ‘system that eats us from the inside out’ or as the predictor of compulsive behaviours. Moreover, we will see the correlation materialism has with happiness and overall life satisfaction or we must say ‘dissatisfaction’. However, we will also bring awareness to the fact that materialism is not only conceived as a way of living or part of certain personality traits, but also a philosophical perspective. 

Materialism in Society

Some people might say that Materialism in Society or materialistic people believe what is wrong with our society. Materialism has been described as the ‘devotion to the inherent value of material objects and their possessions’. Even more so, scientists have associated being materialistic as a strong predictor of Compulsive Buying Disorder or CBD. 

As indicated by Racine, Kahn and Hollander (2014), “Dittmar explains that this relationship is not surprising because those who place value on materialism see it as a means to an end: material goods will make them happy and will make their lives better. As a result, it is expected that these individuals would be more likely to develop buying habits that are psychologically driven and that are aimed at improving their lives (Dittmar, 2005)”. 

In contrast, some people believe there is no shame in being materialistic and it can actually be seen as a stereotype. Being materialistic is seen as the necessity or urge to buy and own things that are considered as part of life goals, making it a source of happiness, success and status. However, some people clearly disagree with this point of view where they argue there is so much more in life than this highly superficial perspective. 

Are materialists merely consumers?

Most people will say that materialists are consumers or how they live to ‘consume’. However, telling someone to be less materialistic is not enough since people can learn to control their impulses but it won’t remove their underlying desires, which they can easily mask but can’t get rid of.

Subsequently, as indicated by Sandra Awanis from theconversation.com, “As such, efforts directed towards eliminating materialism (taxing or banning advertising activities) are unlikely to be effective. These anti-materialism views also limit business activities and places considerable tension between business and policy.”

However, we believe that materialists being reduced solely to consumers doesn’t seem to give a clear explanation but only the outcome of their behaviour. What is important is to understand why and find a common background among them. 

The materialist stereotype

Materialists have been perceived as selfish, self-centered, incapable of caring about others, even considered sometimes as narcissistic, etc. However, from a social perspective, their behaviour helps them to conform to the social expectations that in turn, allow them to have a sense of belonging. Sometimes materialism is even considered to be part of some cultures but we can also find that some people believe in the power of products, price tags and brands without considering themselves as materialistic. 

It is easy to generalize and say all materialists consider it as a negative trait, behaviour or value that is often associated with greed and lack of spiritual values, but materialism has been defined from different perspectives such as a way of life, a value orientation, a cultural system or a personality trait. As we have discussed here, we will analyze it as a personality trait and as part of a personal value system.

Buying more stuff and mental health

Many experts consider how buying more and more stuff seems to be associated with our mental health status. For some, it might be related to being anxious or depressed and even a sign of broken relationships.

Let’s consider displays of opulence we see every day in social media as the ‘Rich Kids of Instagram’.where they pose right next to their new Porsche or helicopter. After watching a couple of photos you could even feel distressed and may think you may be feeling jealous but for some, it is not a matter of jealousy because, behind their ‘happy’ face, we can see that there is so much more to it (i.e. an endless void). 

As indicated by George Monbiot from theguardian.com, “There has long been a correlation observed between materialism, a lack of empathy and engagement with others, and unhappiness. But research conducted over the past few years seems to show causation. For example, a series of studies published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in July showed that as people become more materialistic, their wellbeing (good relationships, autonomy, sense of purpose and the rest) diminishes. As they become less materialistic, it rises”. 

Scientific evidence

Scientific studies have aimed to prove the correlations between variables. For instance, a study performed on a group of 18-year-olds (re-tested 12 years later) examined the importance of different goals such as jobs, money and status on one side, and self-acceptance, fellow feeling and belonging on the other.

Researchers found that those at ages 18 and 30 were more susceptible to disorders but if somehow they became less materialistic during that period, they became happier. 

In a study following Icelanders weathering their economic collapse psychologists found that some of them became more focused on materialism while others became less interested in money and focused on family and community life. The group focused on materialism reported lower levels of wellbeing while the second group reported higher levels.

Materialism in Society (A brief guide)

In recent years, the Material Value Scale or MVS has been used to assess the importance to own material things. A study performed in 2015 explored the relationship between materialistic values and well being of Croatian citizens using the 9-item version of the MVS. they found that when controlled for income, gender and age, the Happiness dimension predicted Life satisfaction and both positive and negative affect. 

Subsequently, people who believed their happiness depended on material goods reported lower life satisfaction, lower positive affect and a higher level of negative affect over the past month. 

Materialism and well-being

Researchers have increased their interest and approach to materialism when studying the potential effect it has on an individual’s well-being. Many studies conducted in several countries have found an association between dissatisfaction with life and lower subjective well-being. Moreover, as we have discussed, it has been correlated to psychological disorders such as depression and paranoia.

In terms of individual characteristics, materialists have been found to be more prone to be socially anxious, self-conscious and confirming. Additionally, they were found to be more concerned about appearances and motivated by extrinsic goals. Finally, some researchers have suggested that materialism may also be correlated to antisocial behaviour such as conflicts between spouses and also a tendency to engage in shoplifting (Lipovčan, Prizmić-Larsen & Brkljačić, 2015).

Some authors believe that materialists use material goods as compensation for personal weaknesses such as having low self-esteem or a need for security (even if it is superficial and temporary).  Others argue that materialists seem to set unrealistically high expectations and goals so that the discrepancy between these and reality or what they can achieve will make them feel unhappy about their lives. 

Why is this blog about Materialism in Society important?

Materialism in society can be seen as a way of life, where people worry about what money can buy and how many things they can get. This seems to be the insatiable desire to possess and own material things, and as such is believed to be the reason why our society is ‘ill’. Moreover, as we have discussed, materialistic behaviours have been correlated with happiness and wellbeing where it makes sense that many people with materialistic personality traits and/or behaviours report lower satisfaction with life and lower subjective well-being.

However, let’s remember that Materialism is not only seen as the interest and/or desire for money, possession, etc., but it is also known to be a philosophical perspective and a way to explain the world even if in this article we only talked about the psychological aspect of it. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Materialism in Society

Is materialism good for society?

Being too materialistic from a mindset perspective is not good for society since highly materialistic people will only think that buying and owning things is the key to happiness and will give them a false sense of achievement. Research suggests that highly materialistic people tend to care less about the environment than non-materialists.

Is society too materialistic?

The society we live in has become highly materialistic. This means people are judged and classified for what they own or how much money they have. However, this seems to be a common way of thinking among our societal standards, where money can buy happiness.

What is the concept of materialism?

According to britannica.com, the concept of “Materialism, also called physicalism, in philosophy, the view that all facts (including facts about the human mind and will and the course of human history) are causally dependent upon physical processes, or even reducible to them”.

What is wrong with materialism?

As a way of thinking, materialism can be considered wrong in many ways. One of them is creating this insatiable ‘appetite’ for ‘things’ that are said to fill a void within the human soul that doesn’t seem to fill with them at all. Human beings are always searching for something and at times, they seem to want more which will create a false sense of safety, goals and relationships.

What is a materialistic person?

Traditionally, we say that a materialistic person is someone who focuses on objects, ownership and wealth. For instance, we say someone is materialistic when they are constantly wanting to buy and wear designer clothes or having the latest smartphone. However, it will depend on the perspective and point of view because in philosophy it has a different meaning. 

References

Aanis, S. (2018) There’s no shame in being materialistic – it could benefit society. Retrieved from theconversation.com. 

Monbiot, G. (2013) Materialism: a system that eats us from the inside out. Retrieved from theguardian.com.

Lipovčan, L.K., Prizmić-Larsen, Z. & Brkljačić, T. Materialism, affective states, and life satisfaction: case of Croatia. SpringerPlus 4, 699 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40064-015-1494-5

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.