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Materialism: An American Value

L. Robert Kohls wrote, "By any standard, Americans are materialistic. This means that they value and collect more material objects than most people would ever dream of owning.”, in his piece, Values Americans Live By. In agreement to what L. Robert Kohls wrote, I too believe that Americans are generally materialistic people. There are many people who believe that Americans are not very materialistic. I disagree. Most Americans believe they need many of their material objects. Americans think that these goods will make their lives will be easier and happier. We have all heard the saying several times; “Money will not buy happiness.” This statement is true. America as a whole should strive to be less materialistic. Americans should be searching for what really matters in life. While it is true that Materialism is an American value, we should all try to realize that while what happiness is defined as, may be different for each individual, it is evident that happiness will not come from being richer or owning more material possessions.
Research shows that money can not buy happiness. Throughout the years 1956 to 1998, most Americans’ salaries increased greatly due a large economic boost. Yet, despite this fact, when the general public was surveyed on their overall happiness in this time period, the level remained constant. The surveys showed that whether the year was 1956 or 1998 the average amount of Americans that were satisfied with their lives was about 30%. This statistic shows that rises in average income did not change the overall happiness of Americans (Kasser, Tim). Tom Horton wrote, “As national income has soared, about the same percentage of us say we're as happy now as 50 years ago.” (Horton, Tom). This agrees with what Tim Kasser wrote in the aspect that both men support the idea that happiness of our country has not been affected by making more money.
It can also be proven that rich nations compared to poor nations are not necessarily happier as a whole. A study on Mexico and France, showed that the average ability to buy goods in Mexico was a third of the ability in France. Despite this statistic, when asked about their overall happiness, only 35% of French men and women said they were genuinely happy. On the other hand, in Mexico, 65% had this same response (Brooks, Aurthur). Mexico is statistically happier than France, yet the amount of money Mexico has to spend is less than France. Another variable must be affecting Mexico’s happiness, but it is clear to see that the variable is not based upon the fact that they have less money to spend than France, thus, proving that richer nations are not always happier than poorer nations.
Americans, by any means, are Materialistic. Americans have a desire for material goods. While Americans only make up 5% of the population of the planet, we consume about 30% of the earth’s resources (Horton, Tom). This statistic shows that Americans obtain more goods and resources than they could ever need. If every country used the amount of resources that Americans do, we would need at least five times the amount of resources that exist on the earth right now (Horton, Tom). This being said, it seems clear that American materialism is spinning out of control. These statistics alone have convinced me to really think about what is important in life. What’s important is not how many televisions are in my home or how much I paid for them.
Some people do not believe that materialism is necessarily a bad thing. Dr. Twitchell, an English professor at the University of Florida, said, ''Materialism is doing the work that spiritualism promised: bringing us together. People around the world share a common yearning for the same irrational objects...” (Tierney). This statement tells me that some people believe that while many Americans buy pointless items, this materialism is something that defines us and brings everyone together in one way. While this is a good point, I disagree. Materialism may be an American quality that is part of every ones’ lives , but it is a quality that is deteriorating from our overall happiness.
Americans want the biggest and the best, literally. For example, cell phone companies are always coming out with new models. This is a genius strategy that plays perfectly into the materialistic hearts of Americans. When someone buys a cell phone, there is a guarantee that in a month or two it will be outdated. There will soon be a new cell phone out on the market. The only differences between said cell phones will be that the newer one, for example, has the ability to read and download books while the older model doesn’t. This will then make the consumer want this new cell phone because they cannot imagine their life without the ability to read novels on their phone. This suggestion sounds exaggerated but is a reality. This is also very frustrating to many consumers because everyone wants to have the latest technology, as to not be left behind, so they find themselves spending more and more money on technology, frequently. This is a frustration that is felt by almost all Americans. A study in 2009 showed that 91% of Americans own a cell phone (Foresman). This statistic also shows us that, even with unemployment, homelessness, and bankruptcy, and our less-than-perfect economy, our materialistic culture has set in the minds of Americans that having a cell phone is a major priority.
This is true with most technology. Today, a person has the best technology, but tomorrow, there will be a better, faster, more efficient, appliance available. This is American culture. Americans constantly dream of what life would be like if they made more money, had a bigger house, or had the newest ipod. I believe that to a large part of America the true meaning of Thanksgiving is to see how many decently priced electronics they can obtain on Black Friday. What Americans really need to be asking themselves is if material objects and money will not make them happy, what will?
What will make people happy is success. Whether this is success is in the workplace, academics, athletics, or in our relationships, success in any form brings happiness. This success does not include and should not be measured by how much money is obtained. There should be less emphasis in our culture on what we have and what we don’t. The success in our personal relationships is what I believe will bring the most happiness. For example, a person could be the most successful athlete around, but if they don’t have anyone to celebrate with, share their accomplishments with, or anyone to support them, this happiness will cease to exist. If this athlete has awful relationships because he or she is so wrapped up in how much money they are making, what kind of car they are driving, and what shoes they are wearing, they will not find happiness. This person will soon come to realize that without people to share his or her accomplishments with, their life is not full.
In conclusion, while Materialism is an American value, we as Americans should try to change this. Is it really fair for Americans to be using so many of the world resources? It’s not only not fair to the world, but it’s not fair to ourselves. We cannot continue to live this lie: that material objects and money will bring us happiness. They will not. This happiness, if any, is temporary and is not real. In a short time, when the pseudo-happiness wears off, consumers feel the need to buy more material ideas to make them “happy” again. So America, let’s write a new set of values. At the top of the list should be family, friends, and our accomplishments. These are the things we should be valuing, not meaningless, material objects. It makes me sad to realize that at this time in American history, materialism is not only an American value but an important one at that. It quite possibly is the number one on many Americans’ lists.






Works Cited

Brooks, Arthur. “Does Money Make You Happy?” The Christian Science Monitor [Boston, Massachusetts] 24 June 2008: n. pag. Proquest online. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Foresman, Chris. “Wireless Survey.” Ars Technica. N.p., 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2011.

Horton, Tom. “The Toll of American Materialism.” The Baltimore Sun 11 Jan. 2002: n. pag. The Baltimore Sun. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

Kasser, Tim. The High Price of Materialism. USA: n.p., 2002. googe books. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.

Tierney, John. “Hallowed Be the Name on the Label.” The New York Times 15 Dec. 2000: n. pag. Gale Power Search. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.





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