Is Materialism a good thing or a bad thing?I ask this question honestly, even though I have my own biases, and I thought the Christmas timing of the post was appropriate too. Despite the fact that...

Is Materialism a good thing or a bad thing?

I ask this question honestly, even though I have my own biases, and I thought the Christmas timing of the post was appropriate too.

Despite the fact that most people you ask will argue that the US is too materialistic, much of our economy is based on it, and every Christmas we spend billions on it.  Our economy is certainly larger and better off in some ways because of this American propensity to spend and own, so, do you think materialism is a bad thing?  Or does it have some redeeming value?

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow! Your posting is particularly timely. Great question.

I think materialism is a bad thing. But I think most of us are guilty of contributing our fair share to the problem. I have tried to instill in my kids the importance of giving. This Christmas season, my youngest (14) put together gifts for all of her friends, whether they celebrated Christmas or Hanukkah. She was thrilled with how good it made her feel, to see how happy it made her friends, and I was thrilled to hear her talk about the joy of giving.

On the other hand, I really spent more than I should have, and there was a childlike disappointment on her part that because she picked out most of her gifts ahead of time (clothes, because my taste in clothes seems to stink...???), there were no surprises under the tree for her. This was a hard thing for me to reconcile. How do we keep the spirit of the season—the giving—intact?

I have one friend who takes his kids on Christmas morning to volunteer at a breakfast given for children living at a local orphanage. The family does it every year.

I have tried to be more charitable this year, especially in this suffering economy, giving to organizations that help those in need.

And watching my kids in Sunday School prepare for the church's first ever Christmas pageant also helped my daughter see another side of the season: helping others.

Buying and spending is good for the economy, certainly, but as with all things, balance is important. And so if I take some money and buy school supplies for disadvantaged children overseas, or provide some gloves and hats for homeless families, the economy is fed, as well as those who need it. We can be "materialistic," but maybe more on our terms to still give to our own and others, without necessarily making "the man" richer, or losing our vision of what is important during this winter season.

At least, that's the way I see it...

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In your question you say that you think the American economy is better off because of our propensity to spend.  As many have said, materialism can be a good thing in moderation, wanting and purchasing new things does put money in motion where it is worth more than sitting still.

But the idea that our economy is better off because of our propensity to spend strikes me as odd.  It was our propensity to spend that destroyed the financial system and sent even more hundreds of billions of dollars to the financial institutions that allowed and encouraged a lot of reckless spending by individuals and institutions alike.  I think this willingness to spend money we don't have, or money based on false assumptions like 10+% increases in home value in a year is very dangerous and hasn't helped our economy at all.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whilst I agree with the ideas of #2 and #3, I do think there is a danger in materialism. I think my whole concern can be expressed in one simple word: "enough." How do we define what is "enough"? I haven't been brought up in developing world environments, but as an adult I have spend time living and working in various countries that are considered "developing world" with communities that would be considered "poor" by Western standards. And yet to be absolutely honest, whilst they certainly are poor, often they have a richness of life and a value of what is important and "enough" that really puts those of us who live in the Western world to shame. I think we would all do well to try and live a simpler lifestyle which is not so focussed on the relentless accumulation of possessions, belongings and money.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I grew up in what was essentially a 3rd World country and growing up there instilled in me the conviction that there's nothing ennobling about poverty.  The poor there were not better people for their lack of material goods.

I think many Americans take it too far.  I think that we tend to want way more than we need.  But materialism helps drive progress -- it makes us invent new things that really do help us live better lives.

So materialism has its good side -- it does make strive for things that give us a better quality of life.  And poverty really doesn't have any good sides.

It would be better if we were just materialistic enough.  But if given the choice between the ills of materialism and the ills of poverty, I'm for materialism every time.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that getting a concept of 'enough', as mentioned in earlier posts is the key. Five years ago I found my self on the treadmill of long hours, high pay ending up cash rich but time poor. My husband and I looked at our lives and changed. We gave up the high-pay high-stress jobs and downsized. We have less 'stuff'. much less money and an infinitely better life. Retail therapy is an oxymoron: things do not make us happy - feelings do. The US economy was at its peak when there was a balance between supply and demand. As demand outstrips everything, instability and discontent from the individual to the nation results. I understand that materialism is better than poverty, but materialistic is not the best we can be.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I look at this from another perspective, too.  If you have "too much," what happens to the stuff that we discard in order to make room for the new?  Materialism produces way too much trash, and in the USA, we are horribly guilty of throwing away perfectly good items which aren't broken or useless just because we're bored or we'ved gotten something newer and better to replace it.  The old adage is wrong...whoever dies with the most toys doesn't "win," he just dies with a lot of junk someone else will have to organize and go through.

While I agree that materialism can lead to progress, invention, and really great advances in all things, it also just clutters up our lives.  "More" doesn't mean "happier".

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If, by materialism, you mean the purchase of technological gadgets and equipment such as iphones, laptops and ipads, then I would say this can sometimes be a good thing, particularly in developing countries where education is difficult to access. Like the previous poster,I have experienced childhood poverty, and one of the worst drawbacks for me was being excluded from career and business opportunities. Once the hurdle of the initial loan or purchase is overcome, a laptop gives poor non-English speaking students unlimited access to on-line resources to learn English, to read widely and learn about world current affairs.


marbar57 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think materialism is NOT a good thing!  After all, we're only here for approximately 75 years and when we die we can't take it with us!  I appreciate all the comforts, conveniences, and even luxuries I've been blessed with during my life, but I've found when I chase after things I'm not truly happy.  True happiness comes from being good and doing good for others.  It comes from being surrounded by a husband and family and in serving them.  Even if we were dirt-poor, I could still be happy!

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would have to agree with all of the above posts in that materialism does help drive the economy and even encourage invention, especially in the technological world. I would add that I do think that there is a danger in too much materialism. I see people resort to crime in order to meet their needs, I have even seen families do without necessities in order to get their materialistic needs met.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This country has not always been a consumer nation.  When it was more agrarian and when the U. S. actually manufactured things, this country sold more to other nations and did not need to purchase, purchase, purchase.  Of course, there were other factors, but the nation seemed better off than now when we have to be the ones to buy, buy, buy.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The word "materialism" connotes too much stuff. Having and enjoying things is great; consistently thirsting for more becomes a problem, as my fellow editors have delineated. It is this incessant drive for more which creates the ugly aspects of excessive consumerism.

atyourservice | Student

It can be both a good and a bad thing. Materialism helps drive our economy, and some of the things we buy does help to make life better. For example having a laptop or a phone is more helpful than not.

But due to materialism some people are also ignoring life, and are getting more attached to the technology. The amount of physical confrontations has stopped, and some people tend to prefer the virtual life and ignore reality.

Wiggin42 | Student

The materialism is good or bad. Whenever we question anything that is good or bad,certainly there is some stigma attached to it.

First  the wold is comprise of Materials. Who has it more or less certainly has some effect upon the society.

To have or not to have solely depends on the individual. Striking a balance  in this modern world is important. 

tradecraft | Student

Many people I believe will think of materialism this way:

It is good if you have it and bad if you don't!

juankano | Student

I'm still not clear what you mean by "materialism." And it'snot clear to me that many of the other respondents are clear either. Is materialism just about wanting things, or is it wanting things above a level of subsistence or sufficiency? Is a homeless person being materialist because they want a home? I would guess we'd agree no. So where do we draw the line between wanting a home and wanting a McMansion? (Which is presumably where "materialism" lies). We might also agree that measuring progress or happiness or well-being in terms of "stuff" isn't useful, and there's a a whole set of work (the Human Development Index, among others) that tries to articulate a different set of indicators to measure progress. We've worked with our kids to have "no gift" birthday parties, for example, and the Center for a New American Dream ( has done a lot of work to get people to redefine success and prosperity away from a "materialist" mindset.

is123 | Student

Materialism has been a much discussed term.Apparently many enthusiasts may dream of a wordsworthian concept of  happiness in 'simple living and high thinking' but I doubt about their views in favourable situations.Again,think about the first day of human existence---at that time there was nothing of this modern amenities.Not God but it is man who created all the things that have made us civilized by their intelligence,imaginations and labour.And what inspired the people to discover and invent 'ingredients of civilization'?Is it not Materialism?Simple living and high thinking is only for a chosen few sagely personalities,or for the people having no capacity to aspire and acquire anything;but for the intelligent people aspire and aquire any thing is a very humane quality.But using unfair means to fulfill one's aspiration is the sole  cause of human tragedy.So not the end but the means to reach the end is problemetic.Moving virtuously in the path of Materialism is the only way to a successful human life.All other views are just 'a tale told by -----,full of sound and fury,signifying nothing';and as such avoidable.