Materialism, like capitalism, is a defining factor of the American way of life. As with all things, materialism has its good and bad points. It is a trend that paints the American picture. It gives a perception of wealth and prosperity. However, it is commonly a shallow depiction of reality. The possession of things does not equate to financially stability. Regardless of how it is viewed, it defines us, motivates us, and moves our economy more than any other custom.
The American economy is fed by our materialistic desires. Even during the tough financial struggles of a recession, many Americans continue to purchase that which is bigger and better. America is the top consumer of global products and resources. This local and global buying obsession may be one of the pillars holding the economy out of a depression. Although the economy can benefit from materialism, it also weakens overall financial stability of the individuals that fall prey to it.
Keeping up with the Jones’ is a classic way to describe the goal of the average American. The possession of the latest and greatest, the biggest and best, is how many believe they are measured in society. The constant struggle to be on top may build the economy, but it crushes an individual’s financially security. It is impossible for most Americans to maintain their status and still save for emergencies, the future, and retirement. A drive down many neighborhood streets will tell a tale of comfort and privilege. However, a look at the savings accounts and credit reports of most will show a different story. Materialism leads to a false picture of wealth. This picture is what others want and go into debt in order to achieve. This causes a vicious cycle that has turned into the American way of life.
The healthy balance of work and play found in many other countries seems impossible to accomplish in America. It takes more money to feed the need for more things. Therefore, life for many Americans is filled with long hours at work and less hours at play. Comfort and peace are not achieved through quality time with family and friends, but with a new electronic device and bigger home. Like drugs, materialism gives a short time high and leaves the user in a state worse than before.
Materialism in America pushes and pulls at most of us. It pushes us to work harder and achieve more. However, the achievements are thin and meaningless when compared to the great accomplishments life has to offer. Getting married and starting a family are two major life changes that many put on hold because the situation is not perfect. Owning a home was often a goal for young couples to achieve before having children. The increasing power of materialism has taken that simple plan and magnified it. Now that same young couple will keep waiting until they have the right house in a prestigious neighborhood. Those points in life that give it true meaning are held back by the desire to be measured against a ruler that is constantly changing.
Americans are guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The fullness of the American dream includes the belief that we all have these rights and should never be held back from achieving them. The pursuit of happiness does not mean the pursuit of the most current technology or an upgraded vehicle. It was the right to achieve the most basic and simple desires, regardless of where you stood in the social pecking order. However, materialism has changed that. It has led us backwards on the path the great leaders of our country forged.