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Letting Go of Materialism

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

“For decades, Western psychology has promised fulfillment through building and strengthening the ego. We are taught that the ideal is a strong, individuated self, constructed and reinforced over a lifetime. However, happiness doesn't come from any kind of acquisitiveness, be it material or psychological. Happiness comes from letting go. The happiness that we seek depends on our ability to balance the ego's need to do with our inherent capacity to be." - Psychiatrist Mark Epstein


-Consumer culture may be harming individual well-being. Research suggests that Americans' well-being has, if anything, declined since the 1950s, according to the American Psychological Association, while our consumption has only increased.


-The materialistic values are supported by consumer society. Those continuously in pursuit of material items tend to be less satisfied and experience fewer positive emotions each day.

-Money really can't buy you happiness. Once our basic needs are met, wealth makes little difference to one's overall well-being and happiness.


-Materialism could ruin your relationships. The Journal of Couple & Marriage Therapy did a study which found materialism is correlated with unhappiness in relationships. Previous studies found that students with higher extrinsic, materialistic values tend to have lower-quality relationships, and to feel less connected to others.


-Consumer society breeds narcissistic traits. Materialistic people also typically have less empathy towards others and the environment. “Narcissists generally act with arrogance and are deeply concerned with issues of personal adequacy, seeking power and prestige to cover for feelings of inner emptiness and low self-worth,” psychologist Tim Kasser wrote in The High Price of Materialism.

-Consumerism - or as some would refer to as "modern religion" - tends to capitalize on peoples’ insecurities and use it to sell products. "In a practical sense, consumerism is a belief system and culture that promotes consuming as the path to self- and social improvement," says Stephanie Kaza, University of Vermont Environment Professor.


I had the privilege of meeting with a group of individuals for my first Wellness Wednesday night group. Everyone took time to share about their intentions for the upcoming year as well as what they were wanting to let go of. We used the topic of "psychological materialism" as our guide and discussed the importance of feeling complete without the accumulation of external things. The common themes amidst the discussion were letting go of negative self-talk, shame, guilt, and anger.


In conclusion we decided that instead of spending time living in anger and resentment that we would all set the intention towards being more understanding, loving, and positive. Although it can be hard to forgive, hanging onto resentments can be self-defeating. We have to remember that forgiveness does not mean that we excuse someone’s behaviors but that we let go of the negative emotions in order to promote our own healing and well-being. This way, we release the pain, grant grace to others, and accept life’s challenges with ease.


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