If your house were on fire, what is the one thing you would save and why?
I don't care whether you chose the family album or the iPad.
I want to know why you picked it? What does it represent to you?
This is the crux of the materialistic life that we are increasingly trying to break free of. Not what you own, but the nature of your attachment.
Many times we falsely believe that just having stuff makes us materialistic. Not true!
Materialism is a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social image they project.
It refers to the symbolism of products and how we see them as the bedrock of our identity, happiness and social status.
Materialism is an ugly word. It represents all that is wrong with the culture of constant consumption. It is the bane of the living in the land of plenty.
Why must you escape the materialistic lifestyle?
Materialism makes you live a shallow life distracted by shiny objects.
If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.
The cycle of materialism is never ending. It begins with the false belief that possessing something will change how you feel. When you don't feel ‘good’ or ‘happy’ upon possessing it, you are sucked into buying more and better possessions. All in vain.
Tufts University research into the 'High price of materialism' found that, people who are highly focused on materialistic values have lower personal well-being and psychological health.In fact, people’s well-being improves as they place relatively less importance on materialistic goals and values.
Materialist values are associated with low life satisfaction, depression and anxiety. They could even manifest in the form of personality disorders like narcissistic and antisocial behaviors.
Does a non-materialistic lifestyle imply that you should become a monk?
Possessions by themselves mean nothing. What matters is the role they play in your life.
Having money makes you materialistic as much as having a piano makes you a pianist.
Being non-materialistic essentially means an internal shifting of your focus from possessions as the source of identity and yardstick of happiness.
It means recognising when an object is serving a need that goes beyond what it is actually meant to do. For eg. A car is supposed to take you from A to B, it does not represent your success and happiness to your peers.
Do you want to free yourself from the chains of materialistic lifestyle and want to reach for a deeper and fulfilled life?
Here are 5 strategies to get you started on the un-materialistic lifestyle.
1. Change your media consumption to escape the manipulation of consumerism
Today we are living in a society that worships at the altar of consumerism.
Have you taken a conscious look at the advertising on the media?
They are no longer focused on the factual information about a product. It is all about creating associations between our subconscious needs and the product in question.
We are constantly hit with messages that tell us how to fix our life with stuff.
Susan Opree’s research has revealed a strong correlation between the amount of time one is exposed to television and materialism.
Material values portrayed in advertising teach children that material possessions are a way to cope with decreased life satisfaction.
Advertising acts as a demand stimulator that encourages consumption.
Even psychological advertising conditions us to the pleasure of anticipation even before actual consumption of the objects.
The 'neural predictors of purchase' study by Brian Knurson and colleagues found through MRI scanning that when it comes to your neurons, just thinking about buying something is pretty much the same as actually buying it.
Living in this advertisement populated world also means that our idea of happiness and success is constantly shifting. We are urged to reach up to it by upgrading our possessions on a daily basis.
Living in an age of advertisement, we are perpetually disillusioned. The perfect life is spread before us every day, but it changes and withers at a touch
How to escape the unrelenting bombardment of material values on the media?
You should educate yourself about the unrealistic needs and standards portrayed in the media. This will help you take the media message with a grain of salt.
Even more crucial is to limit your exposure to advertising by minimising the time spent on TV and social media.
Would a $3000 watch be equally appealing to you if it was not endorsed by your favourite celebrity?
Develop a critical thinking mode that helps you see how the media is manipulating you psychologically.
2. Learn to postpone gratification and learn conscious consumption
Consumerism places a significant emphasis on instant gratification.
‘Faster is better’ is the reigning mantra for today’s generation.
We can't tolerate even the merest hint of delay involved in waiting for fulfillment of our desires. We want quick fixes that help us medicate whatever emotional issues we are facing.
Why should you get out of the YOLO mentality?
Instant gratification is not an attitude that fosters success or happiness. Overcoming it is essential not only for escaping materialism but also for your overall life.
The Stanford Marshmallow experiment revealed that, individuals who are better at delaying gratification are more likely to make better choices and exercise self-discipline in various areas of life.
Use the gap between desire and purchase to realise the difference between purposeful action and subconscious manipulation.
If you are already in grips of the ‘right here right now’ mentality, don't despair.
The follow-up studies to the marshmallow experiment have found that the ability to delay gratification can be practiced and learned like any other life skill.
How to overcome the lure of instant gratification?
When you are multitasking, your brain is distracted. So, it is most likely to make subconscious choices that do not reflect your best intentions.
Watch out for the stimuli that urge you to reach for instant fixes. Replace impulsive purchases with deliberate and conscious actions.
Develop future focus
A Washington University study on ‘Impulsivity and self control’ has revealed that, the patient individuals devoted more energy to imagining receiving their reward later.
Why not try enforcing the 30 day wait-period on purchases?
This extra time will help you get clarity about the actual need and the relative urgency of your desired object. This period will also help you analyse your subconscious motives and you can make a decision from the intentional mental space.
As we get past our superficial material wants and instant gratification we connect to a deeper part of ourselves, as well as to others, and the universe.
Leading the un-materialistic life does not mean you stop buying stuff and live a threadbare existence.
It just means you put thought and time into possessions that enter your life.
3. Build intangible assets that help to meet your deeper emotional needs
Materialism is all about amassing things and depending on them to bring significant happiness and contentment into your life.
Instead of trying to give the appearance of success, develop qualities that foster success
But does this actually work? What makes us truly happy?
In reality, life satisfaction is correlated with having less materialistic values.
Invest in relationships
The 75 year longitudinal study on happiness has found that, ‘love’ or ‘good relationships’ are the most important factor in determining our happiness.
Materialism is not focused on the intangible rewards of relationships like companionship, support, love and comfort.
Materialism fosters social isolation, isolation fosters materialism. Materialism is also correlated with unhappiness in marriages. It actually ruins personal and social relationships by sparking constant comparison and resulting in discontent.
Spend your time with family and friends instead of browsing online shops. Pick activities that you can enjoy with your friends over the ones that foster individual consumption.
Invest in experiences over possessions
The pleasure from an object is lost over time as we are habituated to it or it becomes outdated.
But, the value of experiential purchases increases over time and acts as a source of consistent pleasure.
A scientific paper by Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich titled ‘To do or to have’ has revealed that while pleasure from objects depreciates, experiences become even more valuable, as we return again and again to the pleasurable memory.
Thomas DeLeire's research into categories of happiness has revealed that the only category to be positively related to happiness is leisure like vacations, entertainment, sports.
If Money Doesn't Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren't Spending It. Right.
We often confuse possessions with success, status and even confidence. In reality materialism is often a sign of insecurity.
Un-materialistic life does not mean a life without spending money. It means spending money on experiences that expand your horizons and nurture your relationships.
4. Declutter to remove peripheral possessions and focus on high value stuff
Have a look around your room.
Can you name a couple of things which you have not used in the last three months?
Chances are, you can name more than a couple.
We are fast becoming champions of clutter who accumulate possessions to meet our materialistic needs.
Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on items they do not need.
Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education.
93% of teenage girls rank shopping as their favorite pastime.
The things you own end up owning you.
Decluttering does not mean a blanket removal of your possessions. It is more on the line of streamlining them to meet your specific needs.
Being un-materialistic means making the ‘replace’ rather than ‘add on’ purchases.
Aim for buying high value products that enrich your life rather than stuff that meets partial or momentary needs.
Get rid of the aspirational clutter.
Aspirational clutter represents a life that you might lead someday. This often induces feelings of guilt because of the money spent or the disappointment of not using it.
Are you willing to break the shackles of comparison?
We are doomed to live in a culture of social comparison that pushes us towards materialism. This is an influencing factor when you consider the clutter we are collecting just to keep up.
Decluttering for a non-materialistic lifestyle means removing the wrong things to make space for the right things.
The National Poll of Millennials by AICPA revealed that, 66% of millennials want to keep pace with their peers on where they live; 64% say the same thing about what they wear. Nearly two-thirds experience pressure to keep up with the types of places they eat and the gadgets they carry.
Break this pattern of accumulation by stopping use of possessions as a yardstick of success and status.
Decluttering does not necessarily mean owning less. It means owning more of the right things and minimising the accumulation of low value stuff.
5. Manage your money for value addition over emotional gratification
Managing your money is a crucial skill if you want to stand any chance of escaping materialism.
On the surface this monetary focus seems a bit at cross purposes with our aspirations of un-materialistic lifestyle.
Money is important. Anyone who says otherwise is labouring under a delusion.
But why is it important?
Money gives you the freedom to invest in things that can bring you true happiness. Whereas lack of it curtails your options and keeps you forever in the aspirational and materialistic mode.
The LinkedIn survey of recent graduates has found that rising tuition student debt is causing Millennials to delay the markers of adulthood such as getting married, buying a home and starting a family.
The value of money is not about the number on your bank balance or what you can buy with it. It is about the number of options it can create for you.
41% Millennials are “chronically stressed” about money. The top areas of financial stress include not putting enough money into savings and spending more than they should.
According to AICPA study, 7 out of 10 young people define financial stability as being able to pay all of their bills each month.
In contrast, people who manage their money are secure, happier and more satisfied with their lives.
According to professor Elizabeth Dunn, savings are good for happiness; debt is bad for happiness.But debt is potently worse than savings are good.
Before blowing money on the dream vacation that might land you in debt, create a safety net.
We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like.
Being un-materialistic actually means investing greater thought and consciousness into money management. Your spending habits should be driven by financial wisdom and informed choices.
The un-materialistic lifestyle is not a prescription for cashless existence. It is rather a focus on conscious spending and saving to ensure your most important needs are met in an effective way.
Why you buy has infinitely more implications than what you buy.
Your intent determines whether you are materialistic or not, rather than what you actually own.
The first and perhaps the most important shift from materialism to non-materialism should happen at a deeper emotional level.
Operate with the understanding that material possessions are artificial symbols of happiness. Focus on the utility and the need of your stuff. Invest in building meaningful relationships with your family and yourself.
Shifting to a un-materialistic lifestyle will take time and there are bound to be slip-ups. Give yourself time, compassion and support to get back on track.
Are you ready to let go of your materialistic attitude and live a richer life?