How many times have you heard the complaint that we live in a materialistic world? Are you guilty of being materialistic? If yes, wouldn’t you want to get out of that vicious cycle of wanting to acquire material possessions, then be left with wanting even more after getting what you originally wanted?
Unfortunately, it is indeed a very materialistic world that we live in today. Social experts say that despite the increasing wealth of today’s society, people are not necessarily happier. Why? Because the old adage that materialism breeds discontent holds true, today more than ever.
In the next sections, we will have a quick definition of how it is to be materialistic – and how to actually break free from it.
What is Materialism?
First, let’s have a quick look at materialism. How can you say that a person is materialistic?
A basic definition of a materialistic individual is someone who has this preoccupation with owning material possessions. This can be in the form of luxury goods, more wealth, fancy cars, big houses, anything that’s in excess of what is already owned. Materialistic people equate these possessions to happiness and fulfilment.
If you already have a perfectly working smartphone, for example, being materialistic could be wanting to own the most expensive, high-tech smartphone model – when you already have a suitable one.
If you’re already well-off, being materialistic is wanting to buy one thing after another. There are many reasons behind being materialistic. Some people want to look better or feel better about themselves. Some buy things in order to fulfil a certain void that they have inside.
Despite the fact that we live in a high-tech, rich world, the focus seems to always be on owning more things – even if we already have more than we know what to do with. If materialism breeds discontent, isn’t it high time that we break free of it?
5 Ways to Break Free from Materialism
If you would like to finally break free from materialism, how can it be achieved? Here are the ways:
1. Stop associating happiness with material possessions.
One of the main reasons why materialism flourishes in today’s world is that people associate material things with happiness. It’s perfectly fine if you are a collector of books, for example. If you are able to add another book to your collection, it would naturally make you happy.
Someone who collects rare stamps or coins as an investment or a hobby feels happy when adding to that collection.
But for instances when you use material things as a substitute for happiness, that is when materialism kicks in. If you got a raise at work and you were able to buy a fancy sports car with it, owning the sports car might make you feel happy for a while.
But if you have no family to go home to, for instance, and that is where you feel this void, owning even a dozen cars will never fill that void or emptiness within you. This is precisely the reason why you need to stop associating happiness with material possessions.
Owning things merely give you that artificial connection to happiness – it’s fleeting and not real. By breaking out of this need to possess things, you can also break free of materialism.
Instead of surrounding yourself with material possessions, fill your life with people and enrich yourself with experiences. It is only once you make that connection with other people and with yourself that you will truly find happiness.
2. Don’t allow yourself to be held down by what society expects of you.
After graduating from college, society expects you to work for a company or run your own business. Do this for the next thirty or forty years, retire, then do as you wish living out the rest of your after-golden years.
If you’re holding down a decent job, society expects you to work harder so that you will get promoted and earn more – then live affluently according to how much you are making. There’s nothing wrong in fulfilling these expectations especially if such is the life that you pictured for yourself.
However, if you feel unhappy climbing the corporate ladder, there’s no one stopping you from pursuing your passions. Although you do have to face the reality that you need to hold down a job that pays the bills, you should not stop yourself from pursuing your passions, either.
You’re definitely lucky if you have a job that you love which also pays the bills. But if your current job merely pays the bills while leaving you empty inside because you don’t feel fulfilled with what you are doing, no one says that you cannot change careers. It’s never too late to start anew.
3. Stop comparing yourself with the Joneses.
This is another reason why people are living in an ultra-materialistic society. If you constantly compare yourself with the Joneses, you will end up always wanting something more than what you already have. This is where social media, unfortunately, plays a big role. Let’s say that you’re Facebook friends with your proverbial archenemy in high school.
You see his or her social media posts and you find out that this person is living a more affluent life than you are. Your tendency is to work hard on acquiring the same – or greater possessions than what your archenemy has. Doing so gives you the satisfaction that you have won over your enemy, but this is actually a hollow kind of victory.
The same thing holds true if you will keep on comparing yourself and your life with others. Remember that success is defined differently by every person. That man who owns a fleet of sports car, which you know you will never have considering your salary, might have personal problems that you will never get to learn about.
The minute that you stop comparing yourself with others, you can break free of the chain of wanting to possess more material things.
4. Be aware of the traps of consumerism.
Yet another culprit to materialism is consumerism. When you’re watching television, every gap in the program makes you suffer through those endless commercials which peddle products that you don’t necessarily need.
After watching a slew of ads on TV, you’d find this need to buy the most high-tech gadget, own the most expensive pair of shoes, or subscribe to a service that you don’t really need.
The same thing holds true when you’re watching movies on theatres, when you are catching a game, reading the newspaper or even browsing the Internet. You are bombarded with one ad after another.
How can you break free of materialism if it’s a consumer world out there, and every big company’s ad is geared to capture your attention? The key is to make it a point to only buy the things that you really need.
No matter how many ads say that you have to buy this supplement because you probably have brittle bones, getting your daily dose of calcium from milk and certain veggies will do the trick.
You don’t have to subscribe to anything which you think is only a waste of money. By filtering out all the noise outside, you can focus on merely buying what you actually need so that you can break free of materialism.
5. Realize what’s important for you and transcends material possessions.
More importantly, you have to realize what really is important for you so that you can break free of materialism. If society dictates that you should live in a huge house and drive a fancy car because you are earning this much, should you cave in and pay for more than what you can afford simply because it’s what is expected of you? Definitely not!
To break free of the vicious cycle of wanting to possess more and more material things, you should realize what is really important for you.
For most people, family is important. If you already have a roof over your head and food on the table, you should definitely work harder to maintain what you already have. However, there is no need to move into a huge house or own the latest gadgets if you know that this will only breed materialism within your family.
There’s nothing wrong in indulging every once in a while, but once you become contented with what you already have, that is when you would know that you have broken free of materialism.
Stop equating material possessions with success. Only you can define what success personally means to you. Stop trying to earn more just so that you can live a more affluent lifestyle to impress others, or to fulfil what society expects of you. Know what really makes you happy, which transcends material possessions.
Invest on experiences that you can share with the whole family, instead of buying one material thing after another – these material possessions only give you fleeting joy.
If you know that the reason behind your wanting to possess more is to fill that void inside yourself, try to address the root of the problem. Sometimes, merely talking about your problems with a confidante will already help fill that gap. Once you have learned how to achieve happiness without material possessions, that is the point when you can finally say that you have managed to break free of materialism.