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The High Price of Materialism

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The High Price of Materialism

MIT Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Materialism sows discontent and unhappiness while promising pleasure and freedom. But you – and society – can fight back.

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Editorial Rating



  • Scientific


This very short book demonstrates the truth of the proverb, “Money does not buy happiness.” Author Tim Kasser cites numerous studies as he makes a compelling case that materialists are lonely, narcissistic, hampered in relationships, compulsive, insecure and disconsolate. This excellent, necessary work should be required reading for every graduating student and mid-career executive or professional. It is not quite a self-help book, although the author does offer a chapter of advice on how people can attempt to change their ways and even to form a less materialistic society. This is not merely a psychological study, although it recapitulates numerous experiments. It is only in part a polemic against materialism. On the whole, it is a curious work, one that may be a bit too facile and popular in tone to satisfy the most rigorous academic reader, yet far too packed with source citations to appeal immediately to many casual readers. getAbstract appreciates this thorough presentation of evidence for a truth to which even the most ardent materialists (such as the Material Girl herself) pay reflexive lip service. No individual or society can legitimately ignore the fact that material success does not correlate with satisfaction or well-being but has a high correlation with low self-esteem, depression, divorce and various forms of abuse.


The Cure

Materialism leads to an impoverished quality of life, poor mental health, bad relationships, maltreatment of others, and feelings of insecurity, incompetence and low self-worth. So why do people persist in pursuing it?

Modern society is materialistic. People absorb materialistic values from the media, from their colleagues, from their parents, siblings, children and even, in some cases, from their clergy. Surrounded by materialism, how can human beings possibly become anything but materialists? People cannot change unless society changes – yet society cannot change unless people change. Therefore, what is to be done?

In the first place, society should encourage and cultivate virtues and values that counter the influence and effects of materialism. The Voluntary Simplicity movement is one step in this direction. Its adherents step away from the rat race and focus not on making money and gaining status but rather on developing relationships.

You can take other steps, individually or within your community. These steps include:

  • Think about materialism – Consider how it destroys peace, health and families. Recognize that a sufficient...

About the Author

Tim Kasser is an associate professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

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