Materialism And Happiness In America "The Great Gatsby" (Twain) Era And Today.

1036 words - 4 pages

Materialism: attention to or emphasis on material objects, needs or considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual values.The acquisition of material has been equated with happiness in this country. This is true today, and it was true during the 1920's, the setting of F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. That the majority of Americans believe that wealth and happiness are the same is a result of our marketeconomy that encourages consumption and conditions us to think that we need material possessions to be happy. According to Andrew BardSchmookler, 'Wealth and human fulfillment have become equated in the predominant ideology of liberal society, even though the great spiritualteachers of humanity have all taught otherwise.' (17)What happened to Gatsby's generation? The 20's was an age of a consumption ethic that was needed to provide markets for the newcommodities that streamed from the production lines (Cowley, 53). The same problem exists today ... our materialistic attitudes are a result ofthe freemarket economy in this country. Consumers are taught that they need to have all these things that the businesses are trying to sell.It's true that this desire for things is what drives our economy. The free market has given us great blessings, but it has in some ways also put uson the wrong path -- the path to a selfish, unhappy society. Michael Lerner, who worked as a psychotherapist to middle-income Americansnotes that'The problem is that the deprivation of meaning is a social problem, rooted in part in the dynamics of the competitive marketplace, in part in thematerialism and selfishness that receive social sanction. . . many Americanshunger for a different kind of society -- one based on principles of caring,ethical and spiritual sensitivity . . . Their need for meaning is just as intenseas their need for economic security.'Jay Gatsby had all the trappings of wealth: a huge mansion, fancy clothes, and expensive cars. His lavish, decadent parties were designed toimpress Daisy. But why did Gatsby feel he needed to flaunt his material wealth to win Daisy's love? Why was he so materialistic, and why arewe? Are material possessions what we need to be happy? Part of the answer is that people 'seek in material possessions fulfillment that islacking in other areas, especially human relationships' (Schmookler, 18). The very fact that our market society feeds on economic growth like afetish is a clue that excess consumption does not really satisfy. It is like an addiction. We can never have enough. A famous study done in theearly 1970's by Richard Easterlin, entitled 'Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?' found that 'members of wealthy societies do notseem happier than members of poor societies (119).' Perhaps they are more connected in their interpersonal relationships.Our material yearnings are an attempt to satisfy the need for human relationships. Anthropologist Ashley Montagu had an important observationabout childrearing in...

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