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The High Price of MaterialismReview - The High Price of Materialism
by Tim Kasser
MIT Press, 2002
Review by Diana Pederson
Jun 2nd 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 23)

Kasser and many others have studied the effects of materialism on people's lives. The results may startle you!

"Indeed, what stands out across the studies is a simple fact: people who strongly value the pursuit of wealth and possessions report lower psychological well-being than those who are less concerned with such aims. [page 5]"

What makes some people materialistic? The numerous studies reveal some interesting generalizations. 1. Young adults from divorced families frequently become materialistic. 2. If the child was raised in a poor family, they are likely to become materialistic. 3. Children attending schools with poor discipline and frequent fights, vandalizing by other students, and general defiance of authority were more likely to become materialistic than children attending well organized and highly disciplined schools. 4. Older people are more materialistic than young people. 5. During poor economic times, people become more materialistic. 6. People from poor nations are more materialistic than those from rich nations. 7. People who watch a lot of TV are more materialistic than those who don't. Many other statements such as these can be made after reviewing the studies described in this book.

Kasser identifies several basic physical and psychological needs that must be satisfied for every person. These include the need for air, water, food. There is a great deal of debate among psychologists as to whether psychological needs even exist. The author states:

On the basis of psychological research and theorizing, I have come to conclude that at least four sets of needs are basic to the motivation, functioning, and well-being of all humans. Described in more detail below, I call them needs for safety, security, and sustenance; for competence, efficacy, and self-esteem; for connectedness; and for autonomy and authenticity. [page 24]

He says a need is something a person either desires or wants that is essential to their survival, growth and functioning. If these psychological needs are unsatisfied, materialism is often the result. Most of the chapters in this book show the harm that materialism causes to individuals and corporations.

The final chapter in this book discusses ways to change a person or society from being materialistic to being oriented towards activities or ideas that increase psychological well-being. Kasser identifies the ways individuals, families, and societies can break free from materialism.

Individuals

First, the individual should study the research and think about its implications for their own life. Everyone must learn to keep normal needs in balance with psychological needs. Going to either extreme is harmful to a person's well-being. Second, people should consider the things they are afraid of. These fears often lead to materialistic behavior such as compulsive buying of things that aren't really essential for their life. Third, people must make a conscious decision to stop the materialistic treadmill in their own lives. Fourth, Each person should find their true psychological needs and find ways to meet them without buying something to satisfy loneliness, disconnectedness or other psychological needs. Every study on this topic shows materialism doesn't satisfy psychological needs and actually leaves the person more dissatisfied. Fifth, develop relationships that involve doing things together instead of spending money on each other. Sixth, Find activities that satisfy you without going shopping for more things.

Families

Children copy parents' behavior. Therefore, the first step is for the parents to demonstrate non-materialistic behavior. Second, children must not participate in activities, such as excessive TV watching, that are known to contribute to a materialistic lifestyle. Third, Parents should talk to their children about the whole issue of materialism. They should also show children how commercials and advertisements are little more than tools to manipulate them into wanting something they don't necessarily need. Fourth, parents can band together and agree not to purchase only name-brand clothing or buy the latest computer games. This creates a different reference group for children to compare their lives to. Fifth, our schools must be changed. Take the TV out of schools since virtually every TV program includes commercials. Don't allow corporations donate computers and other high-tech equipment to schools in exchange for the right to track the students' use of the internet in order to learn what things entice them.

Society

First, create some advertising-free zones. These might be schools, the side of the highways, buses, subways, and other forms of transportation. Some nations have already banned TV commercials specifically aimed at children during certain hours of the day. Second, call advertisements a form of pollution. The author even suggests that:

Television shows would be interspersed with reminders that buying products will not really satisfy your psychological needs or make others love you in an authentic way. Instead, advertising companies would emphasize that any product's utility is limited to helping you get back and forth to the office or to removing spots from your clothes, but really nothing more. (page 110)

Third, we should support those corporations that are oriented towards intrinsic values rather than the accumulation of more things. Perhaps employees could receive pay for doing volunteer work in the local schools or community organizations. Encouraging healthy lifestyles for their employees and finding ways to improve the welfare of the community surrounding their business should be corporate goals.

Fourth, we should vote for governmental leaders who value something other than just increasing the nation's wealth. Fifth, we should emphasize providing security for all our citizens. Sixth, experiment with alternative economic systems such as banking hours of helping each other or even alternative money only valid within a certain area.

Should You Read This Book?

I strongly suspect that those who most need to read this book are those most unlikely to take the time to do so. I can guarantee that reading this book will challenge you to look at yourself and determine just how materialistic you are. Unfortunately, just changing yourself won't affect society very much. It may make you the oddball others laugh at or make jokes about. The final choice is yours: will "things" make you happy or would satisfying other goals make you more content and happy with your life.

This book is rather heavy-duty reading. It isn't intended for everyone. I would love to see this information rewritten in a style that would be easily comprehended by a high school graduate or a highly educated social scientist. The information contained in this book needs to be conveyed to the general public in a way that causes us to change our habits and our craving for more things. Perhaps news programs dealing with materialism could present a limited amount of information over the course of several days. It doesn't really matter how this information is conveyed; it is important that our society come to realize that constantly seeking more and more things will only lead to a nation of very unsatisfied people.

 

2003 Diana Pederson

 

Diana Pederson lives in Lansing, Michigan.


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