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Is America The Most Materialistic Society In The History Of The World?

When it comes to materialism, has any nation ever surpassed what we are seeing in the United States right now?  We define our lives by how much stuff we have, to a large degree our personal and business relationships are defined by how much money we make, and even most of the important dates on our calendar are all about materialism.  Just think about it.  We throw outrageous birthday parties for our kids and we shower them with gifts.  Most of our "holidays" have become highly materialistic, and the biggest holiday of all in our society, Christmas, is an absolute orgy of materialism.  We make lists of the "wealthiest Americans" and we glorify their achievements.  We spend most of our time either making money or spending it.  Even the phrase "the American Dream" reveals how materialistic we are.  When most people are asked what "the American Dream" is, they start talking about a house, a car, vacations, retirement, sending your kids to college, etc.  The American Dream has become all about money and stuff.  Sadly, no matter how big our homes are and no matter how many shiny new toys we accumulate, we never seem to be happy.  We always want more, and we always seem to be willing to go into more debt to get it.  We are the most materialistic society in the history of the world, and our endless greed is going to end up swallowing us alive.

When it comes to materialism in America, there are outrageous examples all around us, but one of my favorite examples is the "Rich Kids of Instagram".  It is a Tumblr blog of photos from Instagram of young Americans showing off how they are enjoying the vast wealth of their parents.  The following is how the Washington Post describes the blog....

The controversial new Tumblr is a collection of snapshots from the photo-sharing site that depicts the children of wealth and privilege — summering in the Hamptons, lounging on yachts and posing by their luxury cars.

One does a back-flip out of a helicopter near St. Tropez. Others snap pictures of their restaurant bills — allegedly paying thousands of dollars for lobster, champagne and high-end liquor.

In the warm patina of the Instagram, the youngsters appear to be living over-the-top lifestyles — and enjoying every moment.

“Our everyday is better than your best day,” reads one caption, a bit tauntingly. And, “Do you have a horse in your backyard? Didn’t think so.”

But just because you have a horse on your property does that make your life better than the rest of our lives?

Of course not.

Wealth does not equal happiness.

Unfortunately, however, most Americans have totally bought into this lie.

Most Americans believe that more money equals a better life.

In response to "the Rich Kids of Instagram", the Huffington Post recently put together a piece entitled "the Rich Cats of Instagram" that features photos of cats as they "model upscale accessories, lounge with bottles of champagne, sail on yachts and ponder life while relaxing atop piles of money."

Of course a lot of those pictures are quite funny, but they also reveal a deep truth about our society.

We have spent our lives chasing after the almighty dollar thinking that it will make us happy.  Study after study has shown that we tend to link wealth and happiness.  The following is from a recent NBC News article about one of those studies....

Many parents already know older children can be materialistic. Some tweens not only want the latest games and clothes, but also think owning these things will bring them happiness, friends and popularity. And marketers are eager to get them to buy: Tweens spend $28 billion a year, not including the more than $200 billion their parents spend on them, according to market research company C+R Research.

But even though we have an incredibly high standard of living compared to most of the rest of the world, are most of us actually happy?

No way.  In fact, Americans take more anti-depressants than anyone else on the planet.

It is really easy to get caught up in materialism though.  Let me share an example from my own life.

Several months ago our old truck completely died.  Instead of pouring thousands of more dollars into fixing it, we decided that we would get another used truck.

So the other day I stopped by a dealership while my wife was grabbing some things from Home Depot.  The salesperson started showing me some of the used trucks on the lot, but after a while I suggested that he show me some of the new trucks that were sitting on the other side of the lot.

Before I knew it, I was sitting in the most expensive truck on the lot and he was showing me all of the cool features it had.

And I have to admit - for a few moments there I was really enamored with that truck.  It was the coolest truck that I had ever seen in my life.

Of course my wife and I don't need a truck like that.  We only need to haul stuff around a few times a month.  And we certainly do not need the amount of debt that it would take to buy such a truck.

But for a few moments there I really wanted it.  The pull of materialism can be very strong.

So would that truck have "changed my life" or brought me lasting happiness?

Of course not.

It would have brought some thrills for the first couple of days, but after a while it would just be sitting in the garage taking up space just like any other truck would.

So did I end up buying a truck?

Not yet.  But we need one soon.  My wife has been without a truck for quite a few months now and she is getting impatient.

But whether we get a nice used truck or a used truck that has one foot in the grave, it really isn't going to change our lives much.

In the end, our lives should not be defined by what we own or by how much money we have in the bank.

But how do we refer to ourselves in this day and age?

The American people are called "consumers" and the truth is that we consume far more than anyone else on the globe does.

Just look at our eating habits.  Of all the major industrialized nations, America is the most obese.

The next time you go into a store, take note of how many people are overweight.

It has not always been this way.  Back in 1962, only 13 percent of all Americans were obese.

But now overeating is a national sport.  At this point, approximately 36 percent of all Americans are obese, and it is being projected that number will rise to 42 percent by 2030.

While we are gorging ourselves with food, what else do we like to do?

That's right - we love to watch television.  In fact, the average American watches 28 hours of television every single week.

We have become completely and totally addicted to entertainment, and we have become trained to be constantly "plugged in" to something.

Our lives have become all about constantly feeding our greed and our selfishness.  In fact, that is a major reason for the breakdown of the family in America.  We tend to view marriage as a temporary condition that can be quickly discarded when it no longer makes us happy.

Sadly, the United States has the highest divorce rate in the world by a very wide margin at this point.

In addition, more Americans than ever are putting off marriage these days.  Young Americans are being told that "an education" and "a career" are more important.  According to the Pew Research Center, only 51 percent of all American adults are currently married.  Back in 1960, 72 percent of all adults in America were married.

As a result of these factors, we are an incredibly lonely nation.  Today, the United States has the highest percentage of one person households on the entire globe.

In order to fill the void, the American people turn to things that will numb the pain.  American use more legal drugs than anyone else on the planet and they also use more illegal drugs than anyone else on the planet.

We have more "stuff" than any other society in the history of the world has ever had, but it has not made us happy.

And how did we pay for all of this?

We paid for a lot of this with debt.  In fact, we have accumulated the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the world.

During my lifetime, the debt of the U.S. government has gotten more than 30 times larger.  For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled "27 Things That Every American Should Know About The National Debt".

But the federal government is not the only one with a debt problem.  The truth is that our entire society is absolutely drowning in debt.

Over the past 50 years, the total amount of debt in the U.S. has grown from less than a trillion dollars to nearly 55 trillion dollars....

We have used massive amounts of debt in an attempt to feed our endless greed and materialism and we have gotten ourselves into a whole lot of trouble.

This is one of the reasons why I write.  I want people to understand how bad things have really gotten.

Thanks to our foolishness, our economy has been declining, it is going to continue to decline, and a massive economic collapse is coming.

Some people believe that this is a message of "doom and gloom", but that is not the case at all.

Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that somehow everything is going to be just fine is not going to do anyone any good.

Instead, I believe that warning people about the coming economic collapse is a message of hope.

There is hope in understanding what is happening, developing a plan to deal with it, and preparing yourself and your family for the storm that is coming.

It is the people that are ignoring all of the warnings that are going to be in real trouble.

Millions upon millions of people will be absolutely blindsided by what is coming.  Many will give in to total despair once they realize that their prosperity is gone and they have done nothing to prepare for what they are now facing.

My hope is that the information that I write about will be shocking enough that it will wake people up and motivate them to get prepared so that they can handle the incredibly challenging years that are ahead.

And the truth is that our lives should not be about our money and our stuff anyway.

Your possessions are just temporary.  None of them are going to last forever and you certainly cannot take them with you when you die.

Even though our economy has had some rough times, we still have a higher standard of living than 99 percent of the humans that have ever lived on this planet have had.

You would think that would be enough for us.

But it isn't.  We have hoarded our wealth and we have lived in luxury and self-indulgence.

When our debt-fueled prosperity disappears, most Americans are not going to know how to handle it.

Most Americans will believe that their lives are "over" at that point.

But those that are not caught up in materialism and that have prepared for what is ahead will understand that the next chapters of their lives can be the greatest chapters of all.

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  • Pingback: 21 Facts About America’s Decaying Infrastructure That Will Blow Your Mind | Economy In Crisis

  • Henbane Capital

    You really believe that there are two nickles held in trust?
    Really?

  • Tiggs

    Seriously people? Where in the world did you get this as a religious article? Or an article about weed? Yes I get greed is one of the 7 deadly sins.

    Our society is all about instant gradification, and now! We need to take a step back and be happy with what we have, instead of being envious of what our neighbors have, which I do believe is another sin. Money doesnt buy happiness and its instant gradification is short lived. If we all start keeping that in mind, our lives will be better. The “family” is a myth now, it needs to be reality!

  • Subhash

    In India, we were very poor before 1990s but still we knew how to be happy just earning to have bread and clothes in the village. After economic reformations started in India (i.e. selling our nations to rich people around the world) we lost most valuable things in life that your article has pointed out correctly. Today, many people can afford car and other luxuries but have forgotten happiness since life has become too busy and no time to rest and retrospect due to 24 hours TV and 100s of channels. We benefited from globalization monetarily but at the cost of happiness, caring, spirituality etc.

  • Washington

    Maker of Smart-Grid Control Software Hacked BY KIM ZETTER 09.26.12

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/scada-vendor-telvent-hacked/

  • Deanna Clark

    The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, lays it all out in plain words…

    But another kind of religion is not so pure.

    My family was burned and starved out of Dornoch, Scotland in the 19th century by the wool corporations. The ministers in the Calvinist churches preached that the poor farmers were inferior and deserved God’s scorn…like American Indians, or many other “untermunchen” in the way of “progress”.

    Just a word of caution…all religion or spirituality isn’t innocent or full of sweetness and Light. All the world’s religions have been corrupted by money and snobbery and self-justifying rules. It isn’t enough to be pious and religious. Read Matthew 5-7.

    • faseic

      What are you talking about? In what way for example has Christianity been corrupted? Catholic Church teachings which is the oldest church has stayed the same. yes their have been bad greedy people but that goes for all institutions,belief systems including atheists. And again when it comes to Christianity the teachings have never changed only people have misinterpreted it like the Protestants! For example Catholic Bibles are copied from very ancient biblical books which the church still has.

      • val

        Are you serious?? Please, for the love of God, read about your own Religion before you spout. I can think of two things that the Catholic religion is responsible for…..the Reformation and the Inquisition. Both were horrible massacres of innocent men, women and children.

        If you wanted to actually know the truth then you would research the truth. How about for starters…..Where did the Bible come from?

      • Roger Eikenberry

        uuuuuhhhhh, remember The Crusades?

        • Roger Eikenberry

          uuuuuuuhhh, you won’t find the Book of Enoch in your Catholic bible?

  • http://twitter.com/djdawkins36 Hassan Snap

    Yeah, Americans are materialistic but honestly, I don’t think there insanely more materialistic than many of the other countries I’ve been in. Honestly, I think sometimes that Indians are more. Indians judge a person by college education, job, and wealth. Americans don’t do that as much.

    • Yemi

      The difference between American and India in terms of what your
      definition of materialism is that America loves materials that are not
      necessarily needed, we look forward to having the nicest cars, biggest
      house, latest phones etc
      The example of India is gave does not
      necessarily follow because having a college education and a secure job
      are matters of being a productive individual in society. I’m not saying
      those people in India don’t have the biggest houses or latest phones but
      i am saying they don’t necessarily make it a big deal if they don’t
      have those things.

  • JPH

    This is an excellent article. I’m surrounded by materialistic people. I used to be guilty of it also to some degree. During my teens, early 20′s and well into my mid 30′s I sought certain “things” that I believed would bring me eternal happiness by acquiring. In my late 30′s and approaching 40 I’ve taken the minimalist approach. I now earn less money yearly than I did in my 20′s but somehow I’m much happier. My focus isn’t on things anymore. I spend money only on what I need. I see people all around me doing what I used to do. Spending and sinking in debt while trying to fill a bottomless void of misery, and they can’t figure out why happiness eludes them.

    I suppose I’ve always been somewhat mindful of spending though. At nearly 40 years old I have never purchased a brand new car and never intend to.. I buy good used vehicles and run them until they die. I know people who live on a similar income to mine and they buy new cars every 3 to 4 years. People like that fit the materialistic bill perfectly.

    I do desire to travel to places of interest. Travel costs money, however, I will always believe that money spent on experiences (rather than on things) is money well spent.

    At this point in my life, all I want is Love, Happiness, and Health. Fortunately I have all three and here’s some news for those who love to flash their financial wealth: No amount of money will ever buy you any of those 3 things.

  • Inca_trail99

    The church has some part in all of this. They’ve spent so much time alienating lots of people with irrational, hurtful and divisive beliefs that they are blind to the much larger issue of the massive gaping hole growing in society, that is filled with materialism. The forest isn’t being seen for the trees.

    Arrogance, hubris, judgement and self-righteous pontification instead of humble compassion, gentleness and unconditional love is leading to their downfall, and our materialism as a response.

  • The_C_Guy

    The real question is whether materialism is trumping Christianity. Do we love our neighbors or shun and ignore those who are poor. Do rich people ever talk to poor people? When is that last time a millionaire had lunch with someone who earns $15,000 a year? Everyday at Walmart is Christmas. Condos and large trucks are replacing God and family. Yes. Materialism is bad only when people start to shun others who are not as prosperous then others.

    • Vick

      Reminds me of my experiences when growing up. I wasn’t poor though, Dad a doctor, mom a store manager. Me befriending some friends from small farm town communities during my college years made me realize that most people don’t drive Mercedes Benz’, have large homes with 3+ car garages, 20ft great room ceilings (or even have a great room). Granted there were a lot of rich suburban kids like me at my college, I just hung out with more humble ones and those who weren’t rich and realized just how different the country actually was and how wrong I was.

      Poor kids were made fun of in my community. Everyone gloated about the fancy designer clothes they wore or the kind of car their parents drove. Going to a community college was/still is a sign of being dumb and poor, we were always chided in our schools that if we didn’t not get good grades we’d go to a community college (as if it was a dead end).

      My farm buddies got pissed off when I said that everyone drives MBs, Audis, Jags, BMWs, Cadillacs, etc. Because in Bloomfield hills, Birmingham, Royal Oak, Franklin, (in Michigan) it was all I had ever seen and had never thought about how the rest of the country lives.

      But capitalism and consumerism are a part of the “American Dream”, so I don’t know what should be done.

  • ivotedforbush4x

    US Americans not only are the most materialistic, they’re also the most deceptively superficial and useless. They adhere to completely different standards and backward definitions of those standards. For example, in virtually any non Westernized country, the definition of “honest work” is the production of tangible goods. In Westernized countries like the USA, the definition in its entirety is the act of being physically present at one’s location of employment and the time spent there, whether or not any goods are produced. In other words, Americans, quite literally, are being paid to do nothing but exist; to peddle goods, that someone else honestly worked tirelessly to produce, at criminal markup. That is mercantilism at its finest and there exists reasons why they carry such negative stigma throughout history. They are liars, cheaters, stealers; outright scumbags. So no, what you make and own is not an accurate reflection of your work ethic and character, particularly if you live in the USA, where all sense and logic is out the window. In fact, just the act of fleeing to USA for the sake of a “better life” exposes your greedy desire to be rewarded more than you deserve, and if you’re born there, forget about it. You’re already indoctrinated beyond repair.

  • B

    I don’t know about some of these comments. A lot of people assume that you have to be all or nothing when it comes to material. But it’s really not true… I mean, for example. I like fast cars and open air bikes/vehicles. To me an enjoyable vehicle is a true experience in itself. But I wouldn’t make an awful economic decision and buy a brand new car for that unless the cost is worth the experience. Another thing is having a fair chunk of money shows that you can provide a happy lifestyle with a fair amount of power in society. Having millions isn’t necessary but middle tier or above is typically found desirable. You also can get freedom with money, I love healthy and organic food and honestly it costs a premium that one without much money couldn’t afford. Same with traveling somewhere and enjoying the experiences in life.

    All in all, a lot of material goods these days are about EXPERIENCE, most Americans don’t want a golden toilet even if they’re well off. So it’s pretty rational that one would desire a little leverage in society. And if you’re judging everyone with a nice car or with new clothes or a lot of money as an out of place, greedy idiot, then you’re just as bad as people who view others with less income poorly.

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