Close-up of a woman thumbing through catalog mindlesssly creating discontentment

How Materialism Leads to Discontentment

I should not have even picked it up. I knew better. After all, what was I expecting from a magazine titled simply, SHOP Etc.? 

I can say with all honesty that before flipping open the magazine, I needed nothing. Not a thing. I was content and quite busy with my work. If anything was tugging at my attention it was my garden and all my planting issues—not a lack of shoes, clothes, and household items. 

Close-up of woman mindlesssly wandering through a catalog creating discontentment

In the space of just a few minutes, everything changed. Just like that, I needed new shoes (Kors, $235), sunglasses in the hot purple shade for summer (Prada, $245) and of course The Cutest Suit (J. Crew, $296).

And once I realized the new must-haves for the kitchen, everything I have now seemed completely unacceptable and hopelessly out of style. I need new Czech goblets (Crate and Barrel, $8.95 each), a stainless steel sink (Kohler, $1,815) and faucet (Essex, $385). Don’t even get me started on all the things I realized I need for my bedroom, patio and living areas. How naïve I was only a few minutes earlier feeling content and quite satisfied with my life. A mere 164 pages later, I was filled with inadequacy and discontentment. 

Had I been standing in a store when I was overwhelmed by all these marketing-induced “needs,” who knows what might have happened. 

Simply perusing this magazine gave me a touch of affluenza (affluence + influenza), which is an extreme form of materialism that causes us to overwork and accumulate high levels of debt in order to purchase more goods. 

To the late John Kenneth Galbraith, author of The Affluent Society and former Harvard University economist, materialism has gone mad. That is what breeds discontentment. Through advertising, we are conditioned to buy things that we really don’t want or need—we just get the feeling that we need them. 

Thankfully, I was prepared to deal with this because I know myself and how easily I can be persuaded. I know that true needs are never discovered while wandering the aisles of a store or clicking through pages on Pinterest. If I really needed the most adorable wedge sandals in the perfect shade lime green with white polka dots, I was aware of that before I walked in or logged on.

Rather than linger longingly over all the stunning pages of beautiful things, I tossed SHOP Etc. into the trash. I pushed it way down the bottom with the icky stuff so I wouldn’t be tempted to retrieve it later. But those shoes were still on my mind. To move them out of my thoughts I wrote down on a list what I could recall of them. There. I’ll get them later. Same with the kitchen stuff and other items that were already fast fading from my mind. 

I told myself that if a week from now the burning needs remained, I would deal with them then. And in the meantime? I have renewed my personal rule to not even pick up catalogs or magazines or mindlessly surf websites that have such a powerful effect on my psyche. And should the time come that I really do need shoes, a sink, or sunglasses, I’m quite sure I’ll know what to do. 

And now if you’ll pardon me, it’s my garden that needs my attention. 

First published: 5-12-06; Updated 6-16-19


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4 replies
  1. Betty Thomas
    Betty Thomas says:

    I have the exact same affliction and have found a way to deal that has worked for me. I put a little sticky tab on the pages of things I would love to have, and like you, I usually never need them. I then put the magazine away and a week later when I clear the clutter I normally never even look through the magazine again, I just toss it. Why you might ask, don’t I do that in the first place when I receive the magazine? I get that fever and the thrill that shopping for me, the grandkids or the house brings me. A week later that feeling is gone and I’m past it. Silly I know but for me, it works. As for Pinterest, I avoid it at all costs! I have a horrible habit of starting projects I rarely have time or money for and never finish so browsing is not good for me!

    Reply
  2. Stephanie Pillatzki
    Stephanie Pillatzki says:

    Umm, yeah! This is me! Thanks for pointing out “I have renewed my personal rule to not even pick up catalogs or magazines or mindlessly surf websites that have such a powerful effect on my psyche.” This needs to be my personal rule as well!

    Reply
  3. Miriam
    Miriam says:

    Its great that i live in Canada. We dont have as many online shopping sites or catalogues. I see all the U.S. stuff but thinking about the exchange rate and duties to purchase keeps my mouse hand still most often.

    Reply

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