Challenging Materialism

Last night I spent a half hour or so scrolling through Instagram. Looking at pictures of my friends? No. Looking at inspiring art? Hell no. I was straight up devouring photos of potential new skincare purchases.

And the thoughts go like this:

I really want that serum. I see that so many people love it. But it’s so expensive! I’m sure it’s worth it. Oh shoot, and sunscreen! Definitely need to buy that before next weekend. My haircut this Sunday is already gonna be at least $65 but I obviously need that and also sunscreen. Dang, what am I even going to wear next weekend? All my shoes are horrible. I need new summer clothes. I could really use a new…

Blah blah blah literally could go on FOR LIFE if I don’t notice it and get a hold of myself. Sometimes I have to close my computer or shut off my phone and set it on the table next to me, vibrating with this energy of temptation, non-verbally begging me to pick it back up and keep shopping.

Here’s the thing: we want stuff. We want the things that products sell us – beauty, success, happiness, and a sense of interconnectedness with each other. We want what’s trendy so we can feel like part of the gang. If every cool girl on Tumblr is wearing strappy wedges, we wanna get strappy wedges too, because we want to be a part of it. We don’t want to feel left behind. And further, we want to spend our energy thinking about shoes because it’s a lot easier than thinking about the “real life” stress of our work, relationships, and intrinsic dissatisfaction. 

We often search for a feeling of belonging and happiness in our possessions, but the truth is that we just don’t get it. Sure, we might feel a rush after making a purchase, but that isn’t sustainable. Research shows that materialism is associated with lower social and personal well-being, impulsive spending, increased debt, and even depression and social anxiety. 

And in a way, having intense feelings of materialism is kind of like addiction, isn’t it? I’m in the midst of reading In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté, which is centered on Maté’s experience treating chronic drug users. One of the most interesting parts in the book so far though has been his dissection of his own impulsive spending (on classical music CDs! Which I thought was kind of cute) and how his constant yearning for more is relatable to an addiction.

“When you get right down to it,” he writes, “it’s the adrenaline I’m after, along with the precious reward chemicals that will flood my brain when I hold the new CD in hand, providing an all-too-temporary reprieve from the stress of my driven state. But I’ve barely left the store before the adrenaline starts pumping through my circulation again, my mind fixated on the next purchase.”

We have it in us to beat this cycle. It takes mindfulness and redirection. 

1.     Note the reason behind the feeling.

You’ve been on Pinterest pinning the crap out of images of home décor photos lately, and you just can’t stop thinking about all the new pieces you want to buy to glam up your apartment. These thoughts can come on quickly and go a mile a minute. Stop to consider them. Why are you spending so much time thinking about your shopping list? It might be that there’s something else you’re avoiding. It might be that you’re seeking external validation. It might be that you’re just bored. Recognizing the reason behind longing for possessions is helpful because it reminds us that, a lot of times, it’s about more than just really wanting to buy a new TV.

2.     Shift your thoughts: what do you already have inside of you?

I love the quote from Gabor Maté because it reminds us that yearning for possessions is an endless cycle. Buddhist monk Sakyong Mipham said, “’Just one more’ is the binding factor in the circle of suffering.” Let’s try to stop needing more by honoring what we have inside of us. What can you create? Are you a writer? Shift your thoughts toward your next storyline. A photographer? Plan a weekend trip somewhere new to shoot. Take inventory of your talents and interests and make something. Get invested in it. Get so excited about it that you don’t want to think about anything else. It’s a way better adrenaline rush than buying a new video game.

Like everything else, fighting materialism relies on self-awareness. Know what’s going on with you. It’s not such a mystery if we take the time to think about it. 

Thumbnail photo by ashleyelladesign,com.