The Impact of Consumerism and Materialism on Modern American Society
For numerous amount of years, people have been compulsive consumers as the economy influenced materialism. Consumerism is the act of advertisements for getting people to buy what they don’t need even though they don’t have money. Materialism is considering materialistic possession for physical comfort instead of spiritual values. Usually, providing dishonest advertising, consumerism tricks shoppers into thinking they have to have that product to maintain their happiness. Sometimes people fall for the tricks and sneaky words of advertisements. Consumerism and materialism negatively affect society by manipulating the consumers’ wants vs. needs, and mood, while increasing debt. Whilst, being able to create a small and utopia in the consumer’s mind.
More money equals more problems. The more money somebody has the more they are eager to spend on things they don’t need. As DeAngelis states, “Compared with Americans in 1957, today we own twice as many cars per person, eat out twice as often and enjoy endless other commodities that weren’t around then”. Time has evolved and Americans have found more and more ways to spend their money on things they don’t necessarily need resulting in compulsive spending. Compulsive consumerism usually is noticeable during peak holidays such as Black Friday. According to Black Friday Death Counter, 7 deaths and 98 injuries have been reported from 2006-2014 from people being trampled and stampeded just for a ‘great deal’. This shows how careless people can get when they want something materialistic and would do anything to get it. Most people ditch their family Thanksgiving as well and that contributes to the compulsive consumerism.
People believe that the impulsive feeling that materialism produces is a natural human thing while others believe it’s mad. Taylor states, “Our mad materialism is partly a reaction to inner discontent”. Those who suffer from depression especially look for something to elevate their happiness levels. As society says, consumers run to stores looking for things to make them happy or make a significant other happy. According to Murray, “Self-doubt among those predisposed toward it, appears to intensify materialistic tendencies as well”. Young adults now also experience more depression which affects their views of consumerism and even fuels it. They grow up with less happiness and social awareness. Teens and young adults are usually affected by technology and the pressure of getting the latest gadget on the market. Which determines their social worth which in turn affects their mood.
Couples are also affected by consumerism. When a holiday such as Valentine Day arrives, there is a stigma of what to give someone. And lately, couples have been getting into arguments about what the value of the gift should be and how much gratitude is reflected. Researchers studied: “Materialism had a negative association with marital quality, even when spouses were unified in their materialistic values. Marriages in which both spouses reported low materialism were better off on several features of marital quality when compared to couples where one or both spouses reported high materialism”.
Insecurity is used by major brands to manipulate the consumer. In media, it is easier to make someone feel bad than good. Any makeup advertisement subconsciously tries to make the viewer believe that wearing their products is the only way to feel beautiful. In fact, in the International Journal of Dermatology, Sam says that “normal daily use of cosmetics can fulfill important psychological functions in that it promotes social and psychological well-being”. Advertisements make people go into a common cycle. First, the subject in the ad feels bad because something is missing in their lives. Then the product is displayed and the people using it seem happy and amazed. So, the subject has an aha moment and figures out that the product is the key to their happiness. Then the ad ends with an exaggerated happy ending and where to buy said product. Now when the viewer of this ad tries to evoke this in real life, they inadvertently set themselves up for disappointment and failure. The advertisement creates false hope for the viewer. But that does not matter to brands, what matters is if they bought or not.
Wants subconsciously turn into needs when impulsiveness comes into play with shopping habits. “I can buy it because I have it”, Thomas states. Consumerism is also the cause of increasing credit card debt in the United States. Ex-debtor and wife, Karen Thomas stated she was “just swiping and swiping away”. Thomas had spent her early, naive college years signing up for credit cards at booths located at the university. She never worried about a bill or a tab. She just swiped. Thomas’s addictive and compulsive behavior came back to bite her as her first card was declined. “Before the cards came in my happiness rate was at a 7 out of 10. While I had to card, I was on cloud 9. But when those cards were declined, I was instantly a 2. And it doesn’t feel good at all”, Thomas explains her happiness as her compulsive consumerism takes over. She felt the need to buy more as she got pulled into the game of materialistic madness. This is common for many people. Our society is heavily dependent on advertisements and they are easily worked into daily routines. The purpose of advertisements is to manipulate the viewer into buying or investing in the product. Thomas now feels comfort in couponing to find the best deals for wants and needs. “My credit was screwed. But it is getting better. Either way, the government will get their money as the economy needs our taxes. So, why not start couponing?”. When asked her views on materialism and if she has ever been materialistic, she responds, “I’m not materialistic at all. I don’t care about those things. Couponing gives me comfort. Not a brand new purse”.
On the other hand, materialism can have a bigger picture. De Angelis believes, “Even if some materialists swim through life with little distress, however, consumerism carries larger costs that are worth worrying about, others say”. Materialism can create a positive influence on people as they strive to find their utopia. For example, in the California Gold Rush people from all around the U.S. flocked to California to hope they would strike gold. But also, they hoped to find a better life as the old Hollywood era was peaking and opportunities were everywhere. People turn to anything to make them feel happy. Usually, the word success comes into play when thinking about happiness. It is believed in our society that the more money you have, the more successful you become, the happier you become.
People see this as an issue more recently. And with all the confusion that media can give, there is some hope when it comes to keeping your wants and needs separate. Youtuber Stacey Flowers believes in the art of budgeting and buying smarter. She uses Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program to plan her finances throughout the year. The program uses a 7-step outline to help pay off her debt. Her videos consist of bullet journaling, organizing, and productivity vlogs. Her goal is to “Be 100% debt-free and live by cash” to pay off her $208,453.27 debt. She stresses to her subscribers that “you will not pay off your debt in one year. What I am coming on here to say is that I am on this journey and this is what it looks like”.
In conclusion, consumerism and materialism are believed to be two of the human instincts we have and can’t do anything about while it is also believed to be the one downfall of our society. Of course, there will be times when people buy things they don’t necessarily need. But there is an understanding of what the consumer wants and why they are purchasing that item. When you turn into a compulsive consumer, the line between the words ‘want’ and ‘need’ becomes blurred. Causing people to feel like they ‘need’ everything that gives them a spark of joy. The belief of a utopia affects how people think. Obsessed with happiness and comfort, people result to splurging, spending, and shopping, just to fill the void that makes them unhappy. Let’s face it, when going through a bad time, we turn to the one thing that would make us happy…spending money on ourselves. But you shouldn’t spend it compulsively. Especially when there are other responsibilities that are in effect. People think they could have all the things they want in the world and create their utopia of happiness. But again, it’s a human instinct to be perfect. To be the person you want to be and spend all the money you want. But next time really think about the effects a material item can give you.
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