This is going to be yet another series of articles I am intending to write in continuation with the already completed one on the paradox of modern education. In the last series, I tried to elucidate that after getting fed up with the hegemony of religion, Europe took to materialism as the alternative way of life. Now this series is going to be a solution part to the problems that have been discussed there. Before I pursue this undertaking, I would like to say one word for denoting the whole corpus of those philosophies of life that the West opted for after saying goodbye to religion. That one word is ‘Materialism’. Be it Darwin, Marx, Freud, Russel, Machiavelli, or many others who launched tirades against the spiritual meaning of life and its forms, all converged on one central point —materialism. Be it humanism, individualism, stoicism, hedonism, liberalism or so many other isms, every single philosophy revolved around the materialistic interpretation of life.
Materialism is a belief that matter is everything and nothing is beyond it. Since everything in the physical world or universe is made from matter in some form or another, this superficial observation of the materialists, therefore, involves denying the existence of the immaterial soul. This is a very dangerous mindset as it negates the very human nature and destroys human relationships to extreme levels.
Materialism is associated with lower levels of well-being. One turns to materialism when he feels insecure or threatened, whether because of rejection, economic fears, or thoughts of his death.
When such people do not have their needs well satisfied, they report lower levels of well-being and happiness, as well as more distress. Such people generally treat others in more competitive, manipulative, and selfish ways, as well as being less empathetic.
Materialists lead unhappier lives — and are worse to the people around them as individuals with highly materialistic mindsets turn to their possessions to find happiness, instead of turning to other people. As a result, materialism ruins people’s relationships, increases a person’s depression and anxiety levels, and makes them less satisfied with their life as a whole. In fact, these people give importance to money and other worldly things. They give up moral values to earn worldly stuff. They believe that there is nothing wrong in resorting to whatever means, right or wrong, in order to enjoy the luxuries of life.
Research has shown that the more materialistic people become, the more they experience unpleasant emotions, depression, and anxiety; and the more depressed they become, the more they develop physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches. Conversely, the less materialistic people are, the more content they become; and the more content they become, the more they experience pleasant emotions and feel satisfied with their lives.
Some researchers have also found that materialism is higher as social media use increases. That makes sense since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how social media companies make a profit. Media, especially social media, fuels materialistic attitudes by glamorizing celebrities like film stars, sports persons, and people who have wealth. Ordinary people regard such people as icons and try to follow them in their real lives. This drives them towards materialism. And when these common people fail to satisfy their emotions, they live emotionally failed and distressed lives. Admiring materialistic celebrities has a direct impact on children’s minds also. Boys and girls start cherishing the lifestyles of these celebrities. They want to be as smart as the movie idols, and as stylish as these people appear in ads. This makes the rather innocent boys and girls significantly more materialistic than those religious boys and girls who do not imitate such celebrities.
In my humble opinion, materialism’s worst kind of ill-effect is that it lowers self-esteem. A materialistic person can go to any extent to relish the luxuries of worldly life. In fact, unlike his peers, a materialistic person never experiences happiness at the core of his heart for he always remains in want. This badly affects the emotional aspect of his personality. He experiences fewer positive emotions, remains less satisfied with life, and suffers higher levels of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Today majority of people want to accumulate more and more wealth. They are after money, bank balance, luxury cars, and tall and spacious houses. In this race, they feel no shame and no self-esteem in breaking all the standards of religion and humanity. Since charity and helping the needy is by spirit an antithesis of materialism and greed, and selfishness, being the natural outcome of a materialistic mentality, materialists enjoy almost no respect and love in society. This again increases and results in increasing depression in such people by isolating them from society. In this way, materialism destroys our social fabric and makes people mentally ill.
The only solution for the ills of materialism is that we must not be too obsessed with the material world, in accumulating wealth for our sustenance in life for the worldly life is nothing except the enjoyment of delusion. The Qur’ān says that people are naturally tempted by the lure of women, children, treasures of gold and silver, horses of mark, cattle, and plantations. These are the enjoyments in the life of this world, but with Allah lies a goodly abode to return to (3:14). Jesus (peace be upon him) says that running after the world is like drinking salty water. The more you drink it, the thirstier you feel. And ibn al-Qayyim says that this world is like a shadow. If you try to catch it, you will never be able to do so. If you turn your back towards it, it has no choice but to follow you.
Contented and religious people also, have emotions, but they are guided by ethics and virtue. Unlike the materialistic ones, they find happiness not in collecting goods but in sharing them and helping people who need help. Materialism, on the other hand, accepts every means that leads people to personal success in this worldly life.
Our common experience is that those people who are not after wealth and do not resort to unfair ways of making money are more religious, pious, and respectable. They earn respect in the sight of people and acceptance in the court of God when they earn through lawful means and spend in charity.
To be continued ….
Dr Nazir Ahmad Zargar, Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir, Ganderbal