(Even Though We Know It's Dumb)
by Tara Struyk on 27 January 2014
I recently came across a photographic essay that showed the bedrooms of dozens of children around the world. It's beautiful and interesting, but what stands out the most is how much stuff some of these kids have — closets bursting with toys and other possessions, while others have so little — a straw mat, a cup, a threadbare shirt.
Of course, my instinct is to feel sorry for the little girl with only one doll, or the little boy who sleeps on a wooden pallet and proudly displays a few tattered books. Then again, that might just be materialism talking. After all, the photographs reveal nothing else about these children; whether they get enough food to eat, a safe, warm place to live, and parents who take good care of them. It's just so easy to assume that they are disadvantaged because they don't have a television and a mountain of toys.
The truth is that most us (myself included) have way more than what's required to meet our basic needs, more than is required to make our lives more convenient and comfortable, and even more than what we need to keep us happy. Well, here are a few key reasons why:
Because We Can Be
It's an Easy Fix
We're Sad or Stressed
Our Media Encourages It
Possessions Are an Outward Sign of Status (and Progress)
A poll conducted by IPSOS in 2013 took a look at the level of materialism in countries around the world. The most materialistic country — by a long shot — is China, where a whopping 71% of people said they gauged their success based on the things they owned. The Chinese were also most likely to say that they felt they were under a lot of pressure to make money and be successful. Other developing countries, like India, Turkey, Brazil, and South Korea, reported similarly high levels of materialism, while in the United States, only 21% of people said they rated their success based on their possessions. It appears that a country's stage of development is correlated with how closely possessions are equated with success among its people. Perhaps for those who've become accustomed to living with so little, luxury goods have more appeal. (See also: Are You Poor Because of Peer Pressure?)