Consumerism is Consuming America


For most Americans shopping is a staple. Hours are spent surfing online shopping websites, shopping in malls, and browsing retail stores. Social media platforms are plastered with pictures of sports cars, shoes, mansions, designer clothes, diamond-encrusted watches, and pristine yachts. Profiles of the wealthy and famous invite envy but offer only desperation. The pursuit of “stuff” is an exclusive economic and social motivator for many, but can be fundamentally unhealthy and psychologically destructive. We’ve developed a necessity for the unnecessary.

Fortunately, there is public support for curbing consumerism and material-based behavior in society because of moral implications, environmental degradation, and mental health issues. In the article “The Age of Overindulgence,” David Bredehoft (Ph.D.) reveals the effects of material-oriented objectives on relationships. He says, “Materialistic goals are associated with being less empathic and cooperative, and more manipulative and competitive.” Bredehoft also states that being motivated by extrinsic aspirations—wealth, fame, image—can result in less “meaningful relationships (to have good faithful friends, to have intimate committed relationships, to have deep enduring friendships).” Many Americans unconsciously compare themselves and compete with others over clothes and appearance which forms a deceptively shallow social fabricate and engenders a loss of essential intrinsic values. By valuing material-items and economic capability in individuals, society shifts away from important values such as integrity, authenticity, kindness, and humility, and instead prioritizes characteristics like competition, greed, selfishness, and gluttony. 

In addition to promoting unhealthy relationships, evidence suggests that fervently consuming and focusing on “things” may also cause mental health problems. Many Americans have become dependent on materialistic goods through unconscious association with their self-worth. In the publication “Material Girl, Miserable Girl,” Sarah Newcomb (P.h.D) describes how and why materialism can lead to mental health issues. She says, “Substantial evidence shows that people who place a relatively high priority on materialistic values/goals…have lower quality interpersonal relationships, have adverse work and educational motivation, and report lower personal and physical well-being.” Newcomb also claims that materialism can overwhelm our other, intrinsic values such as self-acceptance, personal growth, relationships and intimacy, community, and feelings of helpfulness. Intrinsic values such as these are necessary for maintaining mental and physical health, and when they are sacrificed for a temporary feeling induced from a material object, general anxiety, and depressive disorders may arise. Individuals who associate their self-worth with accumulated wealth and material objects may be at serious risk for mental complications. 

Today, many Americans dedicate lifetimes to obtaining material items with the hopes of buying happiness only to be let down by the very stuff so desperately pursued. Materialism is driven by the ambition to fulfill a desired self-image that is usually unattainable and unrealistic. Consumerism-based social inauthenticity and the mirage of material based euphoria can be detrimental to individuals and communities. America wears an excoriating pair of golden handcuffs that only we can unlock.