Responding to Christian Smith: Materialism and Consumption

This is Part 3 in a 5 Part Series responding to Christian Smith’s Book Lost in Transition

When it comes to Emerging Adults it seems as though the goal of life can be summed up in a few words: money, lots of it.   Although most didn’t want several houses, and a dozen cars (yes, some did), a minority seem to conceive of a good life beyond making money to support a comfortable (middle class) lifestyle or something a bit more extravagant.  When asked what they wanted to achieve in life the majority (60 percent) mentioned financial security as an important piece.

I somewhat fall into this majority of emerging adults, imagining days in the future when I can afford a car that doesn’t have a 19— on it’s registration and possibly a little extra space for a guest bedroom or a sunroom in my home.  However, I do diverge from another crucial belief of the surveyed emerging adults who hold that if you earn money it is yours to spend as you please, with no thought to limited resources on the earth, how much you already own, or how little someone else has.  In essence, they hold there should be no limits on wealth or consumption and little pressure socially or legally to donate money.

The larger questions behind these two concepts of money are, What is the good life? and How much do we need to contribute to the common welfare?

How can we begin to look beyond money, or things that money can buy?  The first step may be to turn off the television. Literally true, as Juliet Schor wrote about in her book the Overspent American; the more television you watch, the more things you want to buy.  The more people you see on TV who have plenty of money who are spending it in irresponsible ways, or have never-ending wardrobes, or simply just watching so many advertisements makes you more discontented with your own belongings.  Which means you spend more money.

Some of the other broader ways to address the issues are

:To focus on character development. Money is often a way of focusing on the outward appearances in life, but it can’t bring the same satisfaction as a job well done, a goal achieved, or an experience that you’ve worked hard for.  It is also a poor substitute for friends.

:To understand the paradox of simplicity.  First, it turns out that beyond meeting basic needs and some comforts, more money doesn’t make people any happier.  (This research is touched on in a lot of places, but I read articles most recently in Time magazine, and the aforementioned book by Juliet Schor.)  Simplicity additionally provides an environment that allows you to think clearly and see what really matters in life, much of which is intangible. Rather than be clouded by the latest thrill or gadget you are able to live with a balance of old and new, the familiar as well as the novel.   The less you have, the more you are able to enjoy others.  (Should you be interested in a Christian perspective on simplicity, I would recommend Richard Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity)

:To focus on charity in both senses of the word.  To be charitable toward others by giving them benefit of the doubt and kindly glossing over their faults is one way of looking at this.  However, when it comes to giving money charitably, I think the best way to do it is to plan it into your budget at whatever amount is possible on a monthly basis, the same as any other bill, whether it be ten, one hundred, or more dollars each month. After all, people that give away money are happier and healthier.

Again, this comes down to the question, What is the good life? And how are we to define that? Is there any way that what one person answers should relate to another person’s answers, or can everyone define the good life in their own way, even if it contradicts?  That brings us back to the morality question.  Did you come up with any answers yet?

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Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

2 thoughts on “Responding to Christian Smith: Materialism and Consumption”

  1. This is a very thoughtful post, thank you. For me, and I suspect I’m not alone, each step towards simplicity and connection with the earth helps gets me closet to what feels like the goal.

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