Summary: When it comes to materialism, has any nation ever surpassed what we are seeing in the United States right now? We define our lives by how much stuff we have, social status by how much money we make, what we own and wear and where we live.
When it comes to materialism, has any nation ever surpassed what we are seeing in the United States right now? We define our lives by how much stuff we have, social status by how much money we make, what we own and wear and where we live. Even most of the important dates on our calendar are all about materialism. Just think about it. We throw outrageous birthday parties for our kids and we shower them with gifts and the biggest holiday of all, Christmas, is an absolute orgy of materialism. We make lists of the wealthiest Americans and we glorify their wealth and possessions in shows like MTV’s cribs, “Million Dollar Homes” and “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” According to the book “Affluenza,” we spend more annually on shoes, jewelry, and watches than we do on higher education. Even the phrase "the American Dream" speaks more about owning a house, a car, vacations, retirement rather than freedom and pursuing your dream and potential. Shopping malls are our churches, celebrities our gods, and “People” and “Vogue” our bibles. Like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, you can be famous simply by being rich. President Jimmy Carter said, "Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns."
But no matter what we have, it never seems to be enough. According to the book, “The Overspent American,” 27% of all households making more than $100,000 a year say they cannot afford to buy everything they really need which include SUV’s, laptop computers, digital cameras, electronic personal organizers, and cellular telephones because they’ve all became necessities." (Wuthnow, 192) We have a higher standard of living than 99 percent of the humans that have ever lived on this planet. The US has the highest average salary and average disposable income in the world. In comparison, a doctor in Iraq makes around $1,800 a year. In Ethiopia, the average annual salary is $108. In Niger Africa, the average person makes less than $1 a day. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor figures show that the average household spends $2,235 a year on eating out. But even though we have an incredibly high standard of living compared to most of the rest of the world, we still want more.
We have become a materialistic nation and we know it. According to American Mythos, a national survey showed that 82% of Americans thought they were materialistic and 77% said they are self- indulgent. What exactly is materialism? It is "a preoccupation with possessions and believing that products bring happiness and success."
Why have we become so materislistic? First is unhappiness. Americans as a whole are unhappy. In fact, Americans take more anti-depressants than anyone else on the planet. When people are unhappy, they turn to material things to feel better. Second is loneliness. We are an incredibly lonely nation. Today, the United States has the highest percentage of one person households on the entire globe. We don’t even know the people who live next door to us. Faith Popcorn noted two decades ago that we go from work to home and stay there without connecting to friends or neighbors as in times past. She called this cocooning. And though we have more technology than ever before to keep us connected, those interactions are superficial at best, leaving us longing for true emotional intimacy with others. Third is advertising. Susannah Opree writes, "It's really about the way that advertising tries to sell products. The message is: ‘Buy this product because it will make you happy or make you more popular.’" Fourth is peer pressure. Your friends and family buy a new product and tell you how great it is and sooner or later you begin think you need it too. Add to that peer pressure and the “Keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome and others play a large role in our lives when it comes to materialism.