Updated: May 18
Is this really the case? Let’s take a look.
“The only time you look in your neighbour's bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don't look in your neighbour's bowl to see if you have as much as them.” ― Louis C.K.
Have you ever found yourself wandering why people are always wanting more stuff? Do you know someone that seems to be willing to go to any extent to buy or have what (s)he wants? We can obviously bring in the topic of women having too many shoes and men having too many video games, but the study of materialism goes so much further than that. I could write an entire series of articles on this topic (no need though, there have been plenty before me). Can we generally agree, that our hunger for stuff can possibly be what draws people to exploit others? People always want more from us – always. Some of us get used. Can we say that is in any way related to always wanting more things? Our article contributor Matthew Cheung suggests that this is only partly the case, saying that we can’t settle as that being the whole reason for using each other.
Materialism is a rather popular article topic online, so I’m going to try and make this one a little different. If you want tips about how to stop living such materialistic lifestyle, just google it. Let us begin; what is materialism?
Materialism is “a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter” . Basically, materialism sums up everything that is. So what is a ‘Material Culture’? It's an “aspect of social reality grounded in the objects and architecture that surround people. It includes the usage, consumption, creation, and trade of objects as well as the behaviors, norms, and rituals that the objects create or take part in” . This brings in the topic of wealth, and its relationship to belongings, which we can then extend to a hierarchy and the structure of our society. Today, for most of us, what is the most basic form of belonging and wealth?
“Beyond a minimum threshold of poverty, having more things doesn’t make people happier” says Scott Young . The Guardian suggests that “Buying more stuff is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships. It is socially destructive and self-destructive” . Here’s another rather strong statement that was made in the Guardian:
“This is the dreadful mistake we are making: allowing ourselves to believe that having more money and more stuff enhances our wellbeing, a belief possessed not only by those poor deluded people in the pictures, but by almost every member of almost every government.”
When we jump into excess money, have more clothes than we need, and more stuff than we might rarely use. What now? More! Supposedly, that is a vicious cycle which would ultimately leave us on the wrong end of what we were promised. That’s what we’re being warned of by George Monbiot in the above statement. I’m not suggesting that you should turn to Minimalism, or that you live on what you barely need to survive. I’m not saying this will bring you happiness. What I am saying is this:
“This rich want to keep their money, so they’re not going to buy the good stuff, they’ll buy the cheap stuff.”
These are the words that came out of a long conversation at a pet shop that I had once visited. Those are the words that stuck with me. He has a very serious point: if you have lots of money, in order to keep it you have to find the cheapest way of living. But what does that leave you with? Things that break all of the time. Exploiting people by paying them as little as possible (if you’re in that position). A partner for whom you’ll never really buy as much as you can really afford. If you’re going to hold on to your money, why have it? Whatever you take from this article, just don’t be reckless.
Maybe I’ve just blown everything out of proportion. I’m trying to make you think for a moment.
It’s not all bad though.
Materialism is necessary, it is “any object that humans use to survive, define social relationships, represent facets of identity, or benefit peoples' state of mind, social, or economic standing” . Some of the stuff we have is also very important and can hold sentimental values, like a necklace your mother gave you, or a photo that you can’t let go of. Surely that’s okay right? We should keep those? I’m going to say yes – speaking only for myself. But when do we say no? Where is the line? Here are Matthew’s answers to those questions:
“Definitely, I agree that some items hold a greater value, a special memory that can't be defined with a price. I don't think we should say no, because if a certain someone had an unforgettable memory, I think its definitely something to be kept for life. I think the line depends on the person, some people really value friendships or their partner, I think they'd have more sentimental items than others. But I'd say that you have too much if you already have enough. However, ‘enough’ is different for everyone.” He suggests that this is down to what we need, and what we want. That line is very different for different people, but nonetheless, there is a line for us all.
Why do we seek so much more? Because what we buy temporarily fills a gap, “Our appetite for wealth and material goods isn't driven by hardship, but by our own inner discontent” . Equally it seems to be agreed upon that “Whether it's a gadget you're coveting, a game you have to buy, or a brand you have to wear, we all have a bit of a materialistic side” . But here’s the real suggestion as to why we might be so materialistically wanting, and it comes from the great Charles Darwin: “Darwin's theory of evolution: Since natural resources are limited, human beings have to compete over them, and try to claim as large a part of them as possible” . Wanting more is a very selfish thing. The more we have, the more likely we’ll live – the more food, the larger army, more weapons, etc… After all, we are a selfish species by nature. Matthew suggests that could possibly be down to how we are raised, “I think the major factor is how they grew up. If they grew up getting whatever they want, or in other words spoiled, I think they'll grow up having the same mindset – that they need to have this and that.” The key word is ‘wanting.’
Is that a valid excuse? You decide.
I refuse to believe that this topic is all negative, because it isn't. Some sources I’ve read have said that materialism destroys relationships. And it has the power to do so. But it also has the power to do the opposite. What do we do on birthdays? What do we do on Christmas? We share gifts. This is fundamentally a good thing. It builds relationships, and tightens bonds; it’s our opportunity to be thoughtful in respect of others. Generally, we also expect a gift in response, which shows that we are thought of too. More often than not, we can’t go wrong with this. This creates a feeling of warmth, meaning, being special and being loved. That's quite a contradiction really, because everything I’ve read is saying that we want more in order to feel better, to fill a gap, to feel more important.
But we must still be careful and skeptical because “a materialist life is gonna be costly and the only upside is that it'll be a rather luxurious lifestyle which doesn't always bring happiness. Maybe you'll be 'happy' after finally getting that one thing you wanted for so long, but the 'happiness' stops after you've had the item for a period of time. Then you'll have to find something else to bring back the ‘happiness’, it's basically a vicious cycle.”
Once again, as is often the case, the answer is most likely down to us. The power is within us to control our materialistic lifestyle, or let it spiral. We have to note though, that it has become increasingly difficult to do this. With trends constantly changing, you want the next best things. With ads flooding you left, right and centre, you’re almost manipulated into buying things you never even wanted or sought out to buy (which raises the really scary topic of companies selling you to yourself.) Today, materialism is encouraged more than ever before, because it is what companies thrive off – the consumerist society. And, through our phones, they’ve been more successful than ever.
As we’ve shown, having more isn’t the key. But maybe giving more is. Denzil Washington once said:
“The most selfish thing you can do in this world, is help someone else.” It’s about what you give, not what you get. In Matthew’s words, “I'd go out of my way to get something [for someone else]. Seeing someone happy receiving your present is definitely one of the best feelings.” 
Denzil Washington also went on to say, “The chances you take, the people you meet, the people you love, the faith that you have. That is what’s going to define you.” You might be sitting there thinking that that has nothing to do with our topic. In fact it has everything to do with our topic; where does he mention ‘the things you have… will define you’? He doesn’t. At the end of the day, you can always have more, but it’ll never be enough. This is the birth of many mental health issues: many feelings of loneliness, depression and even obsessions. Obsessiveness is something that Matthew implied had often gotten the better of him, saying that "When I ordered something, I would be so impatient for it to come in the mail, and I will track the order every day.”
Back to Mr. Washington, “It’s not about how much you have, it’s about what you do with what you have”.
I’ve never tried being a minimalist, so I can’t tell you to. However, I can make a few suggestions (despite not being too good at them myself): seek more with what you want to achieve from life rather than seeking things, seek knowledge, understanding, and information. There will never be enough of that, and rarely is it detrimental. Seek people, ideas, experiences, hobbies, goals and aims. That way, I feel that there is a little more to hold onto. When I asked our contributor if he had any suggestions, this is what he had to say:
“I would say discover a new hobby, learn or try something new (maybe try camping or learning how to make beats for music), and then maybe some new perspectives will dawn on them. Perhaps [you’ll end up with] a different lifestyle. I also think reading is very good if they want new thoughts. Reading stuff that you can relate to may help you realize there's something better you can yearn for.”
“We still measure success in terms of the quality and price of the material goods we can buy, or in the size of our salaries”  and we always will. How else would we measure wealth? Every species has a form of measuring status. It doesn't really matter what form it takes, it will always be there. So don’t bother trying to change it. But you can change your attitude towards it. Do you really, really need to be better off than merely comfortable?
Now let me take you back to the title, do you think you'll be happier if you had more?
I owe a huge thank you to our article contributor Matthew Cheung for suggesting the topic, and adding his unconventional advice and personal experiences. You can read his bio on our Contributors Page here
If you have an idea, question or topic you would like me to research, review and write about, I would truly love to. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask me – it would be my pleasure. If anyone would like to contribute to an article on any particular topic please let me know, I would love to work with you.
Jack, in collaboration with Matthew Cheung, at Interconnected.
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