September 9, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Archive: Material Girls (and Boys) in a Material World Are Not Happy Campers

This article was published twenty years ago on Sept 7, 2003. It dropped out during a website upgrade and is reproduced here for its relevance today. This was before all the “gender dysphoria” crisis, geo-grief, smash-and-grab mobs, riots, and rising rates of suicide, drug addiction and mental illness among the youth. Materialism has always had a negative influence on the mind.

Material Girls (and Boys) in a Material World Are Not Happy Campers   09/07/2003
A lengthy report in Science News1 says that materialism is on the rise among kids, but making them less happy. California psychologist Allen Kanner noted that kids are less likely to talk about what they want to do when they grow up than they were 10 years ago. They just want to be rich. They lust for newer, better toys and think that riches are goal to strive for. Kanner observes that “these kids represent the tip of a materialistic iceberg that’s increasingly freezing the joy out of many people’s lives in Western societies.”

The data reflect a two-pronged problem, Kanner argues. In some cases, people who buy into the values of consumer culture end up starved for close friends, family, or any deeper meaning in their lives. For others, he says, money and possessions are hollow compensations for doubts about self-worth, worries about life’s uncertainties, and, especially, fears of death.

Kids are “beating back death with a designer cane,” the article puts it. Another reason for the materialism, according to Jeff Greenberg (U of Arizona), is that “It serves as a secular religion in a time marked by widespread loss of faith in traditional forms of worship.” Yet this materialism appears to be “toxic to subjective well-being.” It causes an insatiable gap between what they have and what they want. Also, “It threatens a person’s work ethic and ability to be creative.”

Another short article in the same issue of Science News2 says that one in six children have a psychiatric ailment, and one in three grow up to develop one as adults. These include depression, panic disorder, and substance abuse.

Not all psychologists agree completely with Kanner colleague Tim Kasser on the downside of materialism, and “No one has come up with a formula for happiness and well-being that works for everyone, and any factor, including material reward, will have different effects on different people,” the article concludes. Kanner’s solution is “voluntary simplicity” – “slow down, reduce wasteful consumption, and emphasize family and relationships.”

1Science News Week of Sept. 6, 2003 (164:10): Bruce Bower, “Buyer Beware: Some psychologists see danger in excessive materialism.”
2Science News Week of Sept. 6, 2003 (164:10): Bruce Bower, “Flag raised for kids’ mental health.”

Psychology is a useless science. When it’s wrong, it’s wrong. When it’s right, it just repeats what the Bible said.

Jesus Christ taught that a person’s life does not consist in his or her possessions. He had the cure for worry: look at creation.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed to birds and flowers as examples of God’s providential care. He taught his disciples that since they are worth more than many sparrows, would not their Heavenly Father meet their needs? The solution, then, was to “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33).

Creation is also the cure for fear of death. Old Solomon, the wiser for having dabbled in materialism to find it vanity of vanities, a pursuit after wind, had advice for the young: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,” before old age starts shutting down your physical systems by degrees (Ecclesiastes 12). “Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” The “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

But there is far more beyond this beginning. To see the wisdom of God in his providential plan for lost humanity is to get a megadose of joy and purpose in life. Jesus died that we might be forgiven, and gain abundant life with our Heavenly Father, our Creator. Imagine being forgiven, restored, reconciled, and then given a divine purpose in life: to cooperate with the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” No more filling that internal void with toys, like casting them into a black hole. Now, it’s Paul’s vigorous charge, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” ( I Corinthians 15:58).

A vacationer returning from Europe recently was struck by the utter secularism and materialism of European youth. From Italy to Germany, spiritual life was practically non-existent, churches were empty, and life seemed to revolve around entertainment and possessions. That is where America is headed, and almost there. And why not? Why should not the youth try to cheat the fear of death by cramming it with material things, when they have been taught they came from slime and are headed nowhere, and death ends the game? The schools teach Darwinian evolution, then the psychologists are alarmed at the fruit. It was all so predictable. It is time for an emergency shot of creation evangelism, to spare a generation from hopelessness. Once saved, they can believe something worth believing, and have a purpose worth throwing all their youthful energy into. And to keep them happy campers, take them out on Creation Safaris.


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