Materialism is often perceived as a mere obsession with money. It’s more than this. Materialism manifests in a variety of ways, the most subtle of which lead people towards unnecessary suffering. It’s natural for people to search for contentment in external circumstances. The truth of the matter, unfortunately, is that contentment can never be found in material circumstances alone.
When you set a goal and achieve that goal, you may experience happiness. That happiness comes from you, not from the goal. The achievement is simply a conduit for the happiness. In attaching yourself to things, you trick your brain into experiencing contentment when you get those things. The problem with this is that it sets up a cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction. When you want something and reward yourself for getting it, you are effectively training yourself to just keep wanting more.
This is a simple concept and yet most people don’t seem to recognize it. They spend their entire lives chasing achievements, material goods, relationships and ideals, all the while never recognizing that the satisfaction they feel in achieving these things is accessible within.
Recognizing this is a wonderful opportunity to simplify your life. Most of the things you chase in the day-to-day only make you happy to the extent that you are capable of making yourself happy. If you cut out the middleman and learn to simply do activities that reveal this inner-contentment and peace, you’re effectively beating the system. The game of life becomes profoundly easier when you recognize that all the satisfaction you could ever need is within you.
Imagine someone walked up to you right now and gave you a check for a billion dollars. That would change your life, wouldn’t it? It would reorient your priorities. You would have all of your material circumstances figured out forever. Try to really put yourself into this mindset. Your circumstances would change, but you yourself wouldn’t change. You would still look the same. You would still have had the same upbringing. Your thought patterns would still function in the same way. You would still have that damn toothache.
This sort of visualization is important— not the “omg I wish I was rich!!!” visualization, but instead the recognition that no matter how much your external circumstances change, you remain you. You are the master of your domain. You can achieve all of your wildest dreams and feel no better about yourself than you do right now. Many a rich and famous person has spoken about this. Why do you think so many rich and famous people are drawn to meditation? People achieve their wildest dreams and realize that they are no more contented than before, precisely because they were willing to forego contentment in order to achieve those dreams.
The key is to recognize that chasing external circumstances is not the answer. That is simply a distraction from the present moment, in which you must always confront yourself. Meditation is often very difficult for people because it forces them to confront many years of lies and self-deception. It brings everything to the surface. It’s like looking into a high-magnification mirror and seeing all of one’s blemishes for the first time.
Over time, reflecting on yourself proves more valuable for well-being than chasing the external world. Reflection allows you the opportunity to make good with yourself, to recognize who you truly are. In doing this, you bypass the need to constantly be distracting yourself with rewards, punishments and achievements. In achieving peace within yourself, outer circumstances become less important.
For most modern people, this subtle shift in mindset changes life completely. People rarely take a second to recognize their motivations or see the roots of their desires. They simply do what they’re used to. In engaging in a consistent process of reflection, they recognize that they are who they are, and that no achievement and no amount of money will change who they are.
This does two things— it makes people content with what they have but also primes them for a life of healthy wealth should they achieve their goals. A person who is content with little is the best at being wealthy, since they recognize that their self worth is not dependent on their external wealth. They can live with or without money and they don’t pretend that the source of contentment is in wealth or achievement exclusively. The person who reflects recognizes the important relationship between the inner and outer self, and the inner and outer world. The more you ponder this relationship and cultivate inner-strength, the better equipped you will be to handle whatever the material world throws at you.