7 Ways Materialism has Spoiled our View of Happiness

With my recent move toward minimalism in regard to my life in general, I’ve been dwelling much on being thankful for those things that I have.  An enlightening conversation with someone recently about materialism spurred my thinking onto myself and my own tendencies. On the surface I would say that I have no dealings with a materialistic mindset, but on closer approximation and searching, I honestly DO!


In America you can’t go far without being bombarded with marketing tactics to get you to spend and advertising that makes products look and seem needful, desirable and impossible to live without. Those who go to 3rd world countries and come back to America are shocked at the way our culture operates. It’s like a wakeup call for them. They see people in these other countries who are in true poverty and who don’t even realize they’re poor. They see people with nothing who are actually happy and content. Comparing that to us Americans who fill our closets with clothes we don’t need, complain about those gadgets that we want and don’t have and who live well beyond our means, is sickening.

I believe that materialism has spoiled our view of happiness. Obviously there are different levels of materialism, but even the most tame level is still discontenting and oppressive. These attitudes that I share here are attitudes that I found within myself. By recognition and analyzation I can change these pervasive and spiraling thoughts.

1. We think we need things to be happy.

Tv commercials, billboards, newspaper and internet advertisements: all of these things shout to us – “You need ____ to be happy!” Having seen and heard this pretty much all of my life, it gets to be a way of life and I became numb to what was actually being said.  I didn’t question If I truly needed a new sweater from the Gap, or if I needed those new vases from Pier 1 Imports. They are cute and it’s a good sale! Why not? It will make me look amazing or my dining room table fancy!

I was fed this lie and never questioned it because it’s “normal.” It’s just America. It’s how we do things.

2. We think we deserve success.

“The “American dream” has powered the hopes and aspirations of Americans for generations. It began as a plain but revolutionary notion: each person has the right to pursue happiness, and the freedom to strive for a better life through hard work and fair ambition. But over time, this dream has come to represent a set of expectations about owning things and making money.” – {source}

I’m all for pursuing happiness and freedom to have a better life. I’m all for hard work and ambition. But what the American dream seems to represent today is a far cry from that. Although I didn’t realize it (I actually thought the opposite was true of myself) I expected the American Dream to come true for Hubby and I in our own marriage. I expected the home-owning, 2 car possessing, middle-class couple with 2 tv’s, lots of kitchenware and power tools and money on the side for whatever we wanted. Why? Because that’s the way it’s supposed to be! Duh!

This expectation wasn’t based on hard work or ambition. It was based on what every American seems to have and what I deserve too.

3. We measure ourselves against contemporaries.

It’s difficult for me not to compare myself with others. It’s a natural thing to do. You look at your friends’ lives, homes, children, etc. and start to see where you fall short or above. It takes work to realize that your life and situation will be unique and that it doesn’t have to measure up to anyone. Although I want to be accepted and looked upon with approval, that doesn’t mean I have to live like others.

In fact I’ve chosen NOT to live like others because that suits Hubby and I right now. We are not better than anyone. We are not less that anyone. We are ourselves. Comparing leads only to discontentment.

4. We live by others expectations.

This one is very true for me. I don’t want to rock the boat or be a disappointment in anyone’s eyes. So when others make suggestions to me about _____ I have a tendency to want to adopt those ideas or practices so I will seem favorable and liked by others. Depending on the person giving advice I will be more apt to try to please. On the surface it may sound like a very peaceful, loving attitude. But it’s really selfish. I don’t want others to view me in a negative light, so I order my life according to their expectations.

5. We fail to realize we are already blessed.

Much of the world’s population lives not as we American live. They are poor, without many of the conveniences that we have and they have no hope of moving beyond their station. Even at my poorest state (which really isn’t poor at all in comparison) I am so blessed!

The Lord has always taken care of me and my needs and He’s never let me down. I do not exaggerate. Although Hubby and I may live in an apartment right now ( I really wanted to buy a house by now!) and we may not have the newest models of cars or all of the kitchenware I would like, I have MORE than I need!

6. We constantly strive for wealthiness.

Although I am not too interested in becoming what America considers wealthy, I have mentally strove (yes, that’s the correct usage of the word…although it sounds really weird!) for better clothes, gadgets, kitchenware (wow! that comes up a lot!), life. It’s part of being successful, right?? WRONG!

Nowhere does it say that we must constantly be upgrading cars, homes, clothing manufacturers, restaurant outings, etc to prove that we are successful. Actually it makes more sense to be frugal! But we go with the flow of the American dream and without thinking we strive toward these things.

7. We do not comprehend what true sacrifice is.

I believe that I honestly have not experienced what true sacrifice is. Hubby and I are keeping ourselves on a tight budget so that we can save as much as possible. But even with our tight budget I still splurge on ice cream, cute flip-flops and mystery novels. There has actually not been a time in my adult life that I have gone without.

I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world to have to sacrifice. It would teach me a lot to say the least. While I may not offer up myself for a sacrificial experiment in this sense, I would like to think that having the knowledge that I have now after contemplating materialism, I would handle it more gracefully with the Lord’s help.

Thoughts anyone?




  1. says

    Excellent post. I think we have lost joy because of all we think we deserve. Getting what I deserve doesn’t produce the same feelings as getting something I have worked and sacrificed for. As for the kitchen items :), I always say I just need to stay out of Bed, Bath, and Beyond because I suddenly find myself needing items I didn’t need before I went in!
    Seana Turner recently posted…A Fun Clutter QuizMy Profile

  2. says

    (It’s funny how when you randomly go online, you find yourself clicking on a blog you’ve never been to and read thoughts that you really needed to read)……..I have been scouring through diff realtors/looking through different locations and jobs and wondering if we’ll ever “catch up with our peers” and then realizing that I’m way in over my head and that we have more than enough of what we have NOW. I have a home filled with love and yeah, its not my “ideal” but my toddler loves it and I love it because she does……… thanks for this, sometimes even though I live a very blessed life, I need to be reminded once in a while……..
    Leila Martinez recently posted…Blog: UNDER CONSTRUCTIONMy Profile

    • Danielle Wells says

      You’re so right! When Hubby and I were looking at homes, the only reason we were looking for such large/expensive homes was because of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Needless to say, we stopped and decided to re-evaluate our decision to move at the time. :) Sometimes in our American culture it’s hard to remember how blessed we are.

  3. says

    This is a topic I have been thinking a lot about lately! It was so fun reading your thoughts on it. I totally agree with your thoughts on those in third world countries. They are so happy and content it blows me away! It makes me ashamed when I begin to think I just have to have something or becoming discontent with a situation! I just got done reading Kisses From Katie. I highly recommend it :) I have been thinking about contentment so much lately that this month I am doing a blog series on it. Feel free to swing by my blog and check it out :). Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I think it is something that we really need to hear!


    Darcy recently posted…Contentment Blog Series: Inspirational ReadingMy Profile

    • Danielle Wells says

      Thank you, Darcy, for reading! I’ve seen lots of blog posts lately about contentment and i think that as i go along I’m seeing more likeminded people!

  4. says

    We went through unemployment with our fourth pregnancy. We had previously lived in a state where materialism is a big pressure point. We are still in the process of learning to live on less. Lots of our family members think we’re crazy, but we don’t believe God created us to be slaves to our stuff.

    • Danielle Wells says

      You’re right! God didn’t create us to be slaves to things. I think in our American culture that fact gets so lost! Even among Christians!

  5. says

    Great post! Success does not equal material goods. Happiness does not equal material goods. Actually, once you have the basics for a comfortable life, material goods are of no consequence whatever. Since I have been writing about these topics on my own blog, I’ve gained greater insight into what happiness is all about. I believe we need to embrace a new kind of economy, one where there’s “enough for everyone forever” (Mark Burch). I’m glad that Thomas Pickety’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has become so popular.

    Carol Preibis recently posted…What a Wonderful World TodayMy Profile

  6. says

    So true – believing happiness is external to us is the issue. Happiness comes from within and if you can’t sit with yourself, your thoughts and feel happy, independent of anything going on around you – there is some work to be done to bring yourself back into gratitude. I know because it’s been my journey for the past couple of years. It’s definitely a shift, but it’s definitely leading me closer to true happiness everyday!
    Rocio Chavez recently posted…Self Awareness + Mindful Eating = Health & HappinessMy Profile

  7. says

    I couldn’t agree more — especially about not ever really having to struggle. We are on a tight budget, but we live a charmed and blessed life, which was particularly apparent to me after reading Tracy Kidder’s book, Strength in What Remains. It’s a riveting story about a young man who escaped genocide in Burundi and Rwanda and his experience landing in NYC with $200 in his pocket. Needless to say, it really put my life in perspective!
    Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions recently posted…Save Time and Money in 5 Minutes with this Gmail FeatureMy Profile


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