On Materialism, Living Simply, and Thrill-Seeking

Alpha Consumer’s Kimberly Palmer recently posted a telling interview with professor and materialism expert Tim Kasser. Here are my favorite excerpts:

Kasser: (I found) that when people were especially focused on goals that pertained to money and possessions and wealth, they were less happy.

A materialistic lifestyle tends to perpetuate feelings of insecurity, to lead people to hinge their competence on pretty fleeting, external sources, to damage relationships, and to distract people from the more fun, more meaningful, and freer ways of living life.

I would encourage people to ask themselves why they really want whatever thing it is they think they want and then to ask themselves two questions. First, is it really worth all the work and effort and such that it takes to get that thing? Is a $4 latte worth the effort it took to make the money to buy it? Second, what are the social and ecological costs of this thing I want? Does buying this fit with my values, with what I think is really good for the world?

Is the $4 latte worth the work it takes to buy it? Yes, if you like your job, and the latte comes at just the right time of day to taste like a liquid slice of heaven.

One thing I rarely see included in descriptions of materialism is sensation-seeking behavior
, such as foreign travel or extreme sports. For example, I’ve always been stuff-averse, but have spent large amounts of money on things that satisfy me mentally and emotionally, such as travel to exotic destinations, or ski passes.

Am I materialistic in the traditional sense? No. I don’t accumulate stuff. However, I do purchase experiences, which often cost more than physical possessions.

Here’s my fundamental question
: If you skimp on physical objects representative of traditional materialism, such as TVs, gadgets, and leather couches, but spend large amounts of money on concert tickets, exotic vacations, and other sensation-seeking experiences, are you still a materialist?

What do you consider yourself?