Toxic materialism – 6 reasons why it makes you unhappy

Everyone would probably like to have more money. It makes your life easier. But constant pursuit of material goods is not only harmful to the people around the materialist, but to themselves as well. Why is it so and what should you do to keep a healthy attitude to money?

Anna Daria Nowicka

People were already aware of the destructive effects of toxic materialism in ancient times. This is precisely what the myth of King Midas is about. He wanted everything to turn to gold at one touch of his hand. The god Dionysus granted him his wish. Did that exceptional gift make Midas happy? Quite the contrary! It turned out that in the midst of all his riches, he was about to die of hunger and thirst, as any food and water he tried to taste turned to gold as well. However, the greatest blow came when, to Midas’s horror, his own daughter turned into a gold statuette after she touched him. In his frenzied pursuit of gold, the king lost the person he loved the most. Deep in despair, he begged the god Dionysus to take his gift back. The king understood that his greatest dream had become a curse. 

This story still rings true in the contemporary world.

Learn 6 reasons why materialism takes your happiness away:

  • Low and/or unstable self-esteem Materialists constantly compare their possessions to those of more affluent individuals. They will never be content, because somebody will always be richer that they are. Neither their financial security, nor the fact that their financial situation is better than that of 90% of the people on the planet gives them peace of mind. Even as millionaires, they will still feel worse because they are not billionaires. By trying to catch up with others, they destroy themselves and their loved ones in the process. Instead of being happy with what they have achieved and enjoy the things they own, they never feel satisfied. They will always want more and more. Their self-esteem is volatile and depends on the results of their ad-hoc comparisons with other people.
  • Materialists live in constant fear of losing even the tiniest share of their assets. There have been cases where rich people attempted suicide after losing some of their money, even though they still had enough to live in luxury. As absurd as it may sound, rich people can also experience emotional crises due to financial concerns. Such breakdowns usually relate to the fear of loss or conflicts with family members over their approach to and management of money, or are caused by putting profits before their loved ones. For more information, read the article: Emotional crises caused by finance.
  • Loneliness. Materialists neglect relationships in their blind pursuit of money. Although the rich are always surrounded by a herd of yes-men, they are actually alone in the crowd. In their rare lucid moments, they realize that as soon as they lose their wealth and influence, these pseudo-friends will abandon them. Moreover, materialists judge themselves and others through the prism of their affluence. They build their social standing based on their riches. This is why they panic at even the slightest deterioration in their status, fearing that it will result in the loss of their so-called social attractiveness and in being rejected by their social circle.
  • Materialists are incapable of building healthy relationships based on genuine friendship, love and selfless kindness, which is precisely what makes one truly happy! They prefer to take care of their own money, rather than of other people! In this way, they not only hurt others, but themselves as well! You cannot buy true love or friendship at any price and they are precisely what makes life profoundly meaningful and gives you a sense of wellbeing.
  • Hedonistic adaptation. What it means, in essence, is that it takes you no time to get used to comfort. The things we have dreamt about stop to impress us the moment we obtain them. The easiest way to see this is to notice how quickly children get bored with even the most desired toy, and how we ourselves stop seeing the "wow” factor almost immediately after we start driving a better car or move into a bigger apartment. For tips on how to limit hedonistic adaptation read the article: How to spend money to be truly happy? As you continue to set new financial goals, you will only feel the thrill for a short moment. Afterwards, even the most expensive things will become quite ordinary and you will feel empty inside once again. No purchases will ever fill that void. But they will increase the risk of shopaholism, which, just like any other addiction, becomes the cause of serious problems. You can read more about this in the article: How to spend money to be truly happy?
  • Lack of meaning in life. One of the key factors which determine our level of happiness is whether we can see some kind of a deeper meaning to our existence. When chasing after material goods, we lose sight of key values which make our lives rich and help us to feel fulfilled.

When working with my clients in financial coaching sessions, I help them to shape a healthy approach to material goods. Money is something we need and which makes life easier. We can use it to do good things for ourselves and for others. However, it is necessary to maintain a healthy balance and to find the golden mean between a sense of wellbeing, financial security and the ability to derive deeper pleasure and fulfillment from life. Money itself will not give you that. 

Hoarding money and constantly chasing after it will not make you as happy as you could be. Toxic materialism destroys the things that matter the most. Money should be treated as a means to achieve superior goals, e.g. to ensure you and your loved ones are safe, secure, live well and can think about your health, leisure and self-realization.