By Adeoye Oyewole.
The dictionary defines materialism as a preoccupation with material objects, comfort and consideration to the exclusion of spiritual, intellectual or cultural values crucial to wholesome living.
This malady manifests itself in a subtle way in our modern lives and builds up as we collect things for a number of reasons – for future use or sentimental reasons. So much could be spent in acquiring them even if we may never get to use them since it is possible that after buying the materials we discovered that they are not relevant to our lives.
However, it may really hurt us deeply to give it away because the two areas in the brain associated with pain light up in response to discarding clutter. The brain gives off emotions as it would give to physical when one loses such valued possessions.
This psychological connection to things unconsciously leads to an accumulation of materials at home, on the office desk and in the surroundings. Clutter either physically or mentally has a negative impact on our ability to process information or focus on a task.
Physical clutter competes for attention resulting in decreased performance and inability to think creatively. Clutter is not only physical as an overwhelming flow of information can clog the mind. Excessive clutter and disorganisation are often symptoms of a more serious psychological problem especially when it can be regarded as hoarding.
At the early stage of some major psychiatric disorders, some people begin to hoard unnecessary things and clutter overtakes spaces in their living, dining and sleeping spaces.
Controversies exist as to whether hoarding rubbish precedes some mental illness or it is a product of the illness itself. It is difficult to excuse our modern crave for non-vital materials from signals of masked mental disturbances especially in a developing country like Nigeria.
Our craze for materialism would be more forgivable if there was evidence that ownership of these goods could lead to happiness. For example, evidence abounds that extremely rich people such as billionaires are not significantly happier than people with average income. They also suffer from higher levels of depression as true well-being does not come from wealth but from other factors such as a good relationship, meaningful and challenging jobs and a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves.
However, in the case of real deprivation where folks do not have their basic needs met, an extra income does relieve suffering and brings succour. A school of thought sees materialism as natural to human beings in the sense that natural resources are limited; hence, human beings have to compete over them while another theory opines that the drive which fuels our materialism is a kind of evolutionary mechanism which keeps us in a state of alertness as a safeguard against extinction.
There is also the psychological theory that explains our materialism as largely a reaction to inner discontent. We look to external things to alleviate our inner emptiness. Materialism certainly can give us some transient feelings of happiness and ego – an inflating thrill which definitely wanes after some time. We make frantic efforts to bolster our fragile egos by continuously seeking to acquire more even to the detriment of our lives and even the society.
No matter how much we try to palliate this inner depravity with material things, our inner discontent and incompleteness always re-emerge, generating new cravings. The only real way of alleviating this psychological discontent is not by trying to escape it but by trying to heal it.
Abraham Maslow, in his theory of hierarchy of needs, postulated that human beings are motivated with respect to the level of their fixation in the hierarchy of needs; the highest is that of self-transcendence where such individuals have overcome this inner discontent arising from material considerations to give attention to the needs of others.
He explained that it was only when individuals graduated from the cravings for survival needs that they could transcend self. This can only be possible when the inner discontent is satisfied by an inner re-programming through the process of meta-motivation and never from material accumulation.
This is the role of religion as our link to the mystical world in satisfying inner depravities. The problem of leaders in Nigeria is their inordinate quest for material things to fill some void in their lives with the wealth of the people they claim to serve.
It is impossible to give sound leadership when our leaders are fixated with enriching their pockets for personal gains. Good decisions may be taken but our craving for materialism interrupts and frustrates their wholesome implementation. This is the madness of our materialism which invariably jeopardises the ultimate good of the society. Let us decide to clear the clutter in our lives as we sacrificially give to those in need and keep our mental health.