First, let me just say that desiring material things is natural and all human beings do to some extent, though some do more than others. Second, desiring material success and being materialistic are not mutually exclusive. Materialism is defined as "preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values". Therefore it is entirely possible to chase after material success without being materialistic, as long as the person doing the chasing is a) doing it for the right reasons (to provide for their family, etc) and b) not at the expense of their values. The problem is that it is all too common in today's world for people to assign a higher value to material success than they do to their personal character and they go about trying to obtain it in unethical ways, making it their priority above all else and causing much destruction along the way.
|Image c/o SweetOnVeg|
As stated in one of my favorite books on the subject of success and leadership Launching a Leadership Revolution there are three levels of motivation for all people. 1) Material Success 2) Recognition and Respect 3) Purpose or Legacy. Of course a person's purpose in life, their passion, and the legacy they leave are far more important things to strive for than material success, but often times until one obtains at least a small measure of material success they do not have the freedom to chase those higher goals with their full drive; they are generally caught in a survival cycle. As Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady point out in the chapter on this subject (Foundational Qualities) "With material success in the hands of those who care, significant differences can be made." There will always be those that take goal setting in the material success category too far and wind up allowing themselves to be lured in by the stingy type of money love they portray in movies and on TV, but more often material goals are tools to great personal growth. I believe that those desires were put inside of each person for a reason and just as good people do good things with money while bad people do bad things with it, so too do good people use material desires to gain leverage on themselves to grow into the person they were meant to be. That is, if those good people don't get suckered into believing the myth that aspirations equal materialism. Sure if people were 100% altruistic they wouldn't need material motivation to become who they were intended to be... but not a single person on this planet is. That being the case it is far better to use those dreams to create positive than to deny yourself on principle to the point of martyrdom (which is a self-focus presenting itself in the opposite direction).
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Instant gratification has replaced the American Dream. It's easier for the individual and seems more rewarding in the short term because with instant gratification comes pleasure, however fleeting it may be. This mindset is reinforced at every opportunity by the media because that's how they make their money. TV executives, advertisers, credit card companies, banks, loan agencies and mortgage brokers all make money by keeping people in their debt. You will never see a furniture store advertising "save up this next year and come buy your new leather couch from us when you have the cash in hand". Of course not. The truth that most people have been blinded to is: bad is not the enemy of great, good is. We've sacrificed the happiness we gain from the process of earning material success (notice the happiness comes from the process of earning not from the things we earn) in order to get the pleasure that comes from small luxuries along the way... things we've been told we need like a phone per person instead of per household, central air, microwaves, a TV for every room, and cable programing to go with them (I'm pretty sure it's called programing for a reason; it programs the viewer), etc. These things are usually good (though I won't vouch for the cable) but in almost all cases there is something great just around the corner if we pass up distracting conveniences and entertainments in favor of stretching ourselves enough to get that next great thing in our path. I wonder how much farther along we all would be if we lived by this principle. I wonder how much farther along I would be if I were more consistent in practicing it myself.