American Values

Materialism: (noun) A theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter. Foreign observers generally consider Americans much more materialistic than Americans likely to consider themselves (Kohls). Americans would like to think that their material objects are the natural benefits that result from hard work and a serious intent, a reward, they think, that all people could enjoy were they as industrious and hard-working as Americans. I agree with Mr. Kohl’s statement “Americans are materialistic.” This means that they value and collect more material objects than most people in the world would ever need or dream of owning. American materialism can be a positive motivating influence to work hard and achieve but taken to extremes can leave a profoundly negative psychological impact.

Many Americans seem to value their material goods over all else (Blasczczyk). They place a higher priority on obtaining, maintaining and protecting material possessions than they do in developing and enjoying a network of interpersonal relationships. Approximately 85% of all adult Americans today own one or more automobiles. Most families possess one or more color televisions, calculator, digital camera or camcorder, cell phone, clothes-washer and dryer, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, microwave oven, gasoline powered lawn mower, refrigerator, stove, and a dishwasher. Many also own one or more personal computers. Under the guise of improving and enhancing quality of life, Americans work harder at their jobs and take less vacation time than most people developed nations in an effort to acquire and to collect things of all sorts and size to that end. Materialism is further fostered and perpetuated by business interests interested in selling products to us. The average American consumer faces a plethora of ads for goods and services that bombard us daily on the television, radio, Internet as well as print. Our society and economy is now driven by the ever increasing demand and appetite for consumer goods. However, in this quest for material possession, the American family had suffered. Often, both parents are employed, not necessarily out of need, but out of want or desire to provide more material comfort to the family. Thus, children are provided with more creature comforts but are not as well- adjusted, cared or supervised than in family’s where a parent remains at home. The time away from the family in an effort to provide more often actually has a detrimental effect on the family.

The term immediate gratification is another term closely associated with the American materialism. Immediate gratification is defined or described as a person’s inability to wait to obtain something that he or she wants (Christopher, 269-272). Instead of saving money over time to purchase an item, many Americans resort to buying on credit to gratify the immediate need to the object desired. Often, credit purchases cost the consumer far more than saving to purchase for cash in terms of finance charges. Often the bills outlast the object purchased. Interest charges sometimes cost the consumer more than the original price of the object itself. Paying these exorbitant charges can leave the consumer in such a “financial hole” that they cannot work themselves out. Regularly, they have to work longer and harder to pay for these material goods causing more stress on the same family intended to benefit by the purchase of these items in the first place. More frequently, bankruptcy has become the only option. Another example is seen with Americans increasing appetite for fast food. The convenience of a cheap quick meal designed to fit the busy lives of Americans has had the unintended consequences of a less healthy and more obese society. While intended to save time and provide a better more convenient lifestyle, fast food is less nutritious and we are less healthy as a society due to our consumption of it.

Americans will continue to subscribe to the pursuit of material goods, especially high tech devices for two basic reasons: the desire for convenience and entertainment. Convenience and entertainment is the want for easy, quick access to information and resources (Wolfe, 29-32). Paradoxically, Americans are working harder at their jobs to work less at home. So, along with popping the family dinner into a microwave oven and eating the meal in a room with perfect temperature control, bill paying can be conveniently done from the comfort of home without ever writing a check or mailing an envelope. One can simply use a laptop in any room in the house (thanks to a home-based wireless network), same as to shop for more material goods to make life even easier. You don’t even have to go to the store as orders can be placed on line and delivered right to your home. Of course, you have to earn more money and work longer hours to purchase these conveniences.

This increase in American materialism, unfortunately, exists along with other less desirable increases (“American Materialism”). There have been increases over the past decades in teen suicides, depression, divorce, the disintegration of the family, bankruptcy, and often despair trying to keep up with the “Jones.” It does not appear that those living by the law of materialism are necessarily happier or fulfilled. The increase in the pursuit of things is evident; satisfaction from possessing these things is suspect and spurious.

So is materialism prevalent in American society today? To answer this question, we need only look down any almost any City or Village street. A cursory glance at these places would require the question to be answered with a resounding, YES! Americans’ desire for material pursuits is not relenting, even in times of economic uncertainty. However, the ever increasing cost of the desire to “keep up with the Joneses” is becoming more damaging, burdensome and difficult. The divide between the “haves” and “have nots” is becoming more apparent and causing a profound negative psychological impact ripping at the fabric of our society. Protests such as “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrating the wealth disparity have sprout up all over the country. Materialism has altered the landscape of the American home and family in both good and bad ways.