How Materialism Leads to Discontentment

By Mary Hunt

August 7, 2019 4 min read

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

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

And once I saw 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 a 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 naive I was, having felt content and quite satisfied with my life only a few minutes earlier. 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 lime-green shade 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 to 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 a list of what I could recall of them. There. I'll get them later. Same with the kitchen stuff and other items that were already fading fast from my mind.

I told myself that if the burning needs remained a week later, 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 when 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.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at, "Ask Mary a Question." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living, Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

Photo credit: Free-Photos at Pixabay

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