Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Materialism and today’s World...

Materialism and today’s World
In some ways the gold diggers' rampant materialism was understandable, since they were living at a time of great poverty, and for many of them gold digging seemed to offer an escape from starvation. But most of us in the country today, industrialized world don't have that excuse. Our appetite for wealth and material goods isn't driven by hardship, but by our own inner discontent. We're convinced that we can buy our way to happiness, that wealth is the path to permanent fulfilment and well-being. We still measure ‘success' in terms of the quality and price of the material goods we can buy, or in the size of our salaries.
Our mad materialism would be more forgivable if there was evidence that material goods and wealth do lead to happiness. But all the evidence fails to show this. Study after study by the psychologists it has shown that there is no association between wealth and happiness. The only exemption is in cases of real poverty, when extra income does relieve suffering and brings sanctuary. But once our basic material needs are satisfied, our level of income makes little difference to our level of happiness. Research has shown that, for example, that extremely rich people such as billionaires are not significantly happier than people with an average income, and suffer from higher levels of depression. Researchers in positive psychology have concluded that true well-being does not come from wealth but from other factors such as good relationships, meaningful and challenging jobs or hobbies, and a sagacity of connection to something bigger than ourselves (such as a religion, a political or social cause, or a sense of mission).
Explanations for Materialism
Many economists and politicians believe that materialism - the desire to buy and possess things - is natural to human beings. This seems to make sense in terms since natural resources are limited, human beings have to compete over them, and try to claim as large a part of them as possible.
One of the problems with this is that there is actually nothing ‘natural' about the desire to mount up wealth. In fact, this desire would have been disastrous for earlier human beings. For the vast majority of our time on this planet, human beings have lived as hunter-gatherers - small tribes who would usually move to a different site every few months. As we can see from modern hunter-gatherers, this way of life has to be non-materialistic, because people can't afford to be weighed down with unnecessary goods. Since they moved every few months, unnecessary goods would simply be a hindrance to them, making it more difficult for them to move.
Another thing is that the restlessness and constant wanting which fuels our materialism is a kind of evolutionary mechanism which keeps us in a state of alertness. Dissatisfaction keeps living beings on the look out for ways of improving their chances of survival; if they were satisfied they wouldn't be alert, and other creatures would take the advantage.
In my view, acquisitiveness is best understood in psychological terms. Our mad materialism is partly a reaction to inner discontent. As human beings' it's normally for us to experience an underlying ‘psychological discord', caused by the incessant chattering of our minds, which creates a disturbance inside us, and often triggers negative thoughts.
We look to external things to try to alleviate our inner discontent. Materialism certainly can give us a kind of happiness - the temporary thrill of buying something new, and the ego-inflating thrill of owning it afterwards. And we use this kind of happiness to try to override - or compensate for - the fundamental unhappiness inside us.
In addition, our desire for wealth is a reaction to the sense of lack and vulnerability generated by our sense of separation. This generates a desire to makes ourselves more whole, more significant and powerful. We try to ‘bolster' our fragile egos and make ourselves feel more complete by accumulating wealth and possessions.
It doesn't work, of course - or at least, it only works for a very short time. The happiness of buying or owning a new item rarely lasts longer than a couple of days. The sense of ego-inflation generated by wealth or expensive possessions can be more enduring, but it's very fragile too. It depends on comparing yourself to other people who aren't as well off as you, and evaporates if you compare yourself to someone who is wealthier than you. And no matter how much we try to complete or bolster our ego, our inner discontent and incompleteness always re-emerges, generating new desires. No matter how much we get, it's never enough. As Buddhism teaches, desires are inexhaustible. The satisfaction of one desire just creates new desires, like a cell multiplying. The only real way of alleviating this psychological discord is not by trying to escape it, but by trying to heal it.

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