My son’s home from university and one of our conversations turned to the economy and how hard it is to find even part-time, entry level work. He’s sent out something like 80 applications, done some interviews, and over the course of months, has just recently landed something part-time. The talk eventually wound around to the idea that my husband and I are post materialists. Now that’s not a term I know and my son delights in sharing what he has learned. As a parent, I love these times when the kids get to educate me. “So what are your girlfriend’s parents then?” I ask him. “Materialists”, he answers as if I should already know that. I actually did know that.

Anyway, further investigation on my part revealed that Ronald Inglehart developed the idea of post materialism in the 1970s as a sociological theory to explain an ongoing transformation of individual values within a society. He argued that as western nations achieved a level of economic prosperity and physical security, its members transformed their values seeking more autonomy and self-expression. Ah, this sounds a lot like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As people meet their basic survival requirements, we move up the pyramid until we are striving for self-actualization. Maslow confined his theory to how individuals are transformed and Inglehart wanted to see how societies as a whole might be transformed.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, created by J. Finkelstein, 2006

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, created by J. Finkelstein, 2006


So to be a post materialist, you must first meet your basic survival needs (food, shelter, security). OK, done. Once that is accomplished you move up Maslow’s hierarchy and as you do, you start to realize you’re no happier than when you were struggling. This brings to mind Daniel Gilbert’s book, Stumbling on Happiness. I believe it was in that book that I first learned American happiness peaked in the 1950s. BEFORE I WAS BORN! Sixty plus years later, we have higher incomes, higher levels of education, better health care, bigger houses, more cars but we are less happy overall. Remember when we were told (and believed) that he (or she) who has the most toys wins? We played the game, we toed the line, we consumed and bought all the right stuff, we competed with the Joneses, and we became… less happy. Maybe we were even miserable because the promise of happiness slipped away as we had to go looking for a storage shed to rent for all the loot that was supposed to make us positively giddy.

Stumbling on Happiness


We looked around and saw it wasn’t working. We stopped playing the game. We got rid of the excess stuff and looked inside to see what would fill the void. We began to talk about “downsizing”. The value shift from possessing things to experiencing and self- expression took hold.

Inglehart recognized that younger people (raised in economic security) were more likely to identify with the values of post materialism. But older people who were raised with the struggle of material existence may or may not shift out of that paradigm. Actually, Inglehart’s ideas remain controversial. Surprisingly, we don’t have good statistical information to measure value changes in the US. The World Value Survey of 2000 (Wikipedia) did give some indication of post materialism worldwide. The highest percentage of post materialists were found to be in Australia with 35%. Canada has 29% while the US has 25 % of the population being post materialist.

So being a minority in the US, I will be moving this year and continuing my efforts to downsize. I will continue to reject the notion that he who has the most toys wins. I will refuse to believe that my worth as an individual comes solely from consuming. I will pursue balance and harmony. And I will remember happiness is a choice for the post materialist and materialist alike. Happy 2013!


Filed under Books, Political, Spiritual/Mysticism

137 responses to “ARE YOU A POST MATERIALIST?

  1. Pingback: Maslow applied to societies | far across the rubicon

  2. Pingback: Rethinking Maslow | far across the rubicon

  3. Wow! Really interesting post. I also subscribe to the view that more is not better and it would be nice for society at large to realize that balance is better than precarious acquisition of “stuff.” Stuff can always be destroyed or lost but self-actualization is something that can’t be broken or made obsolete.

  4. Thank you for visiting my blog, Landscaping the Sacred. I consider myself to be a post-matialist, by your definition. I am so glad you have this understanding. Please revisit my blog as I continue to upload the entries in my journal. Thank you again for the view and your views.

  5. Great post! Coincidently, I had been thinking about this NY Times item (in case anyone’s interested)

  6. Pingback: ARE YOU A POST MATERIALIST? | ellisnelson | Sotto Voce

  7. Val

    I self-identify as an emerging Post Materialist. Partly because of all the boxes and bags going out the door this month to dress for success and the consignment shop, but mostly because the desire to experience and to give back is more compelling than the drive to possess. And, I’m self-expressing on my blog and facebook and twitter and in the hand-written notes I send every week to family and friends around the globe. I am leaning in to what is to come, not what I have on my walls. Thanks for the great post. I’m going to the library to find the book.

  8. I downsized too and I’m very happy. But then, I sometimes run out of money! I wouldn’t say no if I won Lotto. But I’d give a lot away.

  9. I downsized to 360 sq. ft. Sold the car. Moved to city where public transportation is reliable, affordable and rather fun. I can walk to Fitchburg Art Museum next door. Will plant a garden in community garden in park in front of my building. Published a short article, “What home means to me,” in Celebrate HOME Magazine winter 2013. Post materialism. Love living a simpler life than as former homeowner and having more land than I could maintain. Simple is best.

  10. Oh how true this is, x Thanks for your content! And for liking my posts. Endeavoring to make my blog journey worthwhile to any readers out there. I love how you talk from such a strengthened sociological perspective.
    Stay well, x OIM

  11. Yes, I definitely am a Post-Materialist. Although, I have learned not to judge my desires for “things”. I now accept that these desires, whether they be for things or not, are simply an expression of the constant desire for new experience that seems to fuel us all. Experiences which were once mostly dictated by the social strata I was reared in and resonated with, are now re-framed with a knowledge of self that has allows me to free myself from judging others “wants” and “needs”, which in turn informs new desires… and so on and so on.

    It feels quite liberating actually. Maybe it’s Post-Materialist Materialism?

    What I find most interesting is that singular possessive/consumer experiences such as that cashmere throw I’ve been eyeing, or the trip Bora Bora I keep visualizing in the hopes that it somehow magically manifests, are now coupled with a desire to share those experiences with a close-knit community.

    Well, except for the throw… It’s not really big enough for all of us.
    I’d totally let you borrow it though. : )

  12. Mmmm, great post. I’m not sure what my mom, an MFT, is…she has lots of stuff, but we often discuss transformation. I often consider attending Sofia University, a transpersonal psychology school. I’m definitely post! Where can I meet the other 25% and how we can we encourage a movement? I’d love your response! My best revelation yet: Love yourself.

    • My instinct on where to meet others who hold a more post materialist view would be to join groups who hold those values. Groups who recycle and care about the environment, groups who foster diversity, groups with civic minded goals. You might try those meetup groups in your area. Search using keywords like recycle, diversity, civic affairs, peace, … Not sure exactly what transpersonal psych is. My daughter has a BS in psych and wants to combine it with broad-based spirituality. You might want to also look into Dr. Norm Shealy’s Holistic Univ. (I think it’s called Holos Univ). Not sure how far down the rabbit’s hole you’re willing to go…

  13. I was a kid during the 1950s (born ’49) and remember that NOBODY’S mom thought twice about saying “Go play outside. Scoot.” And we did, and stayed absolutely busy for hours doing “nothing.” Climb a tree, find a vacant lot, build a fort, create a scenario, choose roles, act it out, get in a fight/argument, resolve that on our own, go get our bikes/skates, find a ball… Repeat, stirring gently. Outside in unstructured play, re: “The Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. Still the best way to spend a day.

  14. Fascinating! It follows what my father always said, though, while I was growing up – Those who have everything they want are never happy; happy people are those that always have something to look forward to, something to work toward.

    Following that, I’ve tried to keep myself to those things that I need, that make me absolutely happy, and can be used in multiple endeavors (I consider my terribly old laptop to be indispensable). My younger brothers, however, cannot fathom how I live on a limited (Reservist) budget. They may not have the most things in their current possession, but they are constantly buying new toys, new things, and are unhappy with what they have, even moments after the purchase.

    Your son seems well astute, and well informed. May we all be so lucky with our children!

  15. I’m interested in the idea of being a post materialist (would likely define my self as one) but wonder how such people are counted? I would doubt people would currently define themselves that way. Sure its easy enough to poll people about their political leaning, but surely this is a less well defined concept?
    I certainly agree that there has been a definite shift in people’s attitudes towards re-engaging with community and connectedness.
    Thanks for your insight and discussion

  16. vladproex

    Everyone is sensing a shift of values in Western society today. It’s a recurring historical cycle: a generation of wanting, ambitious, optimistic, often greedy people, build a strong economical basis from scratch. As warriors, they love looting, and may be quite boastful – but these are “vices” that help them achieve success. The next generation is born on this economical basis. They either don’t have any interest in raising the platform, because they had so much from the beginning, or, after taking the old values for some time, they realize they don’t want/need them anymore. And so their ambitions become more refined, more spiritual: post-materialistic, if you want. But there’s really no need to put “post” in front of every word. A similar refinement is to be found in Eastern Civilizations’ history (I am thinking of Taoism). But – remember? – it is a cycle: the less interested people become in materialism, the more they become independent, peaceful, self-employed, and critical, the more society becomes unstable and vulnerable… until the whole civilization is conquered by a less refined one, or it is saved by a new generation – of wanting, ambitious, optimistic and greedy people!

    Sorry – the comment it’s longer than I wished. I guess I’ll be writing more about it on my blog.

  17. I enjoyed your post having read both Stumbling on Happiness and Your Money or Your Life. It would be great if an Australian writer would do an article on why there are so many post materialists there, I would be fascinated to learn how they have evolved in that direction and why.
    P.S. thanks for liking my book review of Skylark!

  18. normapadro

    I’m glad I read this post. I learned from a very young age to not have everything that everyone had. I lived on welfare and didn’t have those material things young people have today like those expensive video games.

    I grew up in a household that anything anyone gave us was useful. I learned to wear second hand clothes. I grew up learning to have less clothes. I still just have 8 pants, 8 shirts, 8 undergarments. I buy from thrift stores.

    Most of my camera equipment is second hand. I like buying out of date equipment since the pictures have this antique look about them.

    I don’t care about material things either. If I were to make millions tomorrow I will use it to travel the country and spend time with someone special. My goal is to keep living life simply. I’m not interested in mansions or classy cars.

    I’m very happy with what I have. To many may be nothing, but to me living a simple life means more to me. I rather have money to live and feed myself. 🙂

    • Growing up in rural NY and coming from a family of seven kids, I can relate first- hand to your childhood experience. My parents were on WIC and we knew hand me downs. I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother who had gone through the Depression and always lived simply. For some reason, my Mom went the opposite way and became a pack rat. She still can’t understand how I can go to the mall and window shop, coming home with nothing. She always has to treat herself to something otherwise it’s wasted time. Being with someone is not important to her but buying something is. I guess we’re all different, but you’ve got a lot going for you- so stay true to your values!

      • normapadro

        That’s funny. I can see her with the bags. My mother always liked going to bargain stores to buy paper towels and other things like soaps, cleansers.

        I can see what you mean about your mom. We learn so much from them. It’s so great to be able to see them. Time goes by so fast. Always give her a hug.

        I miss mine very much. Take care.

  19. Greg Daugherty

    Nice article! That triangle looks like a description of the Hindu chakras, with the first two chakras represented by the bottom area of the triangle, and each of the next areas representing the chakras up through the sixth chakra at the top of this triangle.

  20. As a citizen of the country with the 35% (that was 13 years ago so things might have changed a bit) I would like to say that you write a good article. I live in the hills outside of Melbourne. It is a very artistic community, so much so that if you threw a typewritter or a paint brush it would most likely hit an artist. We are quite ‘touchy feely’ in my little town. At the moment there is an ongoing protest against the establishment of a McDonalds (there are none in the hills area so far and this would be the first) The opposition is passionate (and at times illogical) and recently it has been my (volunteer) job to report on a march due for next weekend. My wife and I were active in the anti Vietnam War movement back in the late 60s so I’m a bit torn; I love a good demo (for a good cause) but this cause seems trite to me, but a lot (and I mean a LOT) of people are quite passionate about it. I think it is tangled up in this post materialist sentiment, so in many ways it is symbolic for these people.

    • We’ve had similar protests in smaller communities where Walmart wants to build a store. There are both sides because, at least, it’s jobs- which we are sorely in need of here.

  21. Wow, food for thought! Interestingly enough I’ve realized this inately but didn’t have a label for it. It seems that our souls or inner selves instinctually know what we need, and even if we stray from our core, somehow we always find a way back. It’s like a migration only it’s all internal.

  22. Post Materialism it would seem, is the default setting for humans. The herd at least. Throughout the ages we have gotten by with very little and led fulfilling but trying lives. I don’t believe I’m being cynical when I believe the current generations – all of them, will have to adapt to less.

  23. I worked for a post materialist couple on an eco-friendly farm and they were the worst! Judgmental and miserly, they worked their “apprentices” to the bone all for the betterment of humanity. Communal living was much touted but translated on the farm meant old naked old men deciding to share the hot tub with you. Ugh. I’m afraid of people who associate private property and comfort with evil. Anything taken to extremes can be bad for your mental health.

  24. I am a firm believer in “Less is more” and now trying to live that. It isn’t easy but freedom exists in having less.

  25. foolproofed

    Your post reminded me of this ted talk:
    And both reminded of the following quotation: “The rich are dull because they are omnipotent.” Which is, perhaps, why they’re unhappy as well. Adventure arises when control craters.

  26. al yell

    I think it’s important to distinguish materialism from consumerism – two terms that are often (falsely) used interchangeably.

    The latter potentially (and often) leads to the acquisition of superfluous goods. It is symptomatic of a capitalism system (mostly). Someone who buys more cars then they need, for instance, isn’t a materialist, they’re just greedy and maladjusted.

    Alan Watts explains that materialism comes from the word ‘matter’, which in turns has a relationship with ‘meaning.’ When we say, “What does it matter?”, or “That matters to me.” we are pointing or defining something that has “materialized” and to which we have a connection. Conversely that which ‘does not matter’, is void of importance – it is not meaningful and is dismissed. Materialism, to my understanding, is the phenomenon of experiencing the material. We are all, during our lifetimes, materialists. A simple example is eating; we all do it.

    As for the “post” part – which means that which comes after… that’s anybody’s guess.

    All the best to you and yours.

    • Materialism is a (limited) way of seeing the world. So yes, it’s limited to those things we can experience with our senses. Materialists would on some level deny anything beyond that. It’s mostly a choice. We have been struck in materialism since Descartes. Consumerism is an expression of our materialism.

  27. I think there’s an obvious link between materialism and isolation.
    The more isolated and atomised people feel, the more they need Stuff to create their castle. I’ve done a lot of communal living over the last 30 years (and am about to again), and I’m very struck at the moment by how hard it is to find people who want to live communally, compared to even 10 years ago. It’s just not in people’s cultural vocabulary at the moment – instead, we have Home Entertainment Centres.
    I always feel more content – and therefore less needy of Stuff – when I’m living communally; it’s good mind ecology. It’s also hard and challenging sharing space with others (I have PTSD, and I’m about to find out how hard it is to share space with that going on, because I’m willing to face that challenge rather than be on my own). The alternative (if living on your own doesn’t feel like it involved a real choice) isn’t solitude, but isolation.
    I worry about the castle-building that’s going on. If you don’t remember where you put the keys, there’s not much difference between a castle and a prison.

    • I’m interested in hearing more about communal living because, besides The Farm (?), I haven’t seen anything else. Are there still communes? You make a good point about castle building. We used to use that term when I was in the AF to describe (usually Cols) who tried to gain more power and assets by being very aggressive and taking over things outside typical boundaries.

      • There are still some communes over here in the UK, though they tend to call themselves Intentional Communities these days. Most of my fully communal living has been in Buddhist communities and retreat centres, but I’ve also spent most of the rest of the time living in situations that are less deliberately collective than that, but also more than just a “shared house” – I prefer a home where we live *with* each other rather than just around each other, having done a bit of very unsatisfactory living in “shared houses” where nobody wants to take responsibility beyond their own personal spaces.
        There are many, many approaches to communal living, more or less “structured”. The community we want to set up will be in a rented house in the city, have 4-6 people in it, and be veggie, non-smoking, and non-telly – and explicitly LGBT-friendly. And cat-friendly! We don’t plan to have rules and rotas and all that, but just to make sure we help each other enjoy living together. And grow some veg in the garden. The plan is that if we all get on well, we’ll start a housing co-operative and buy a property together… and then we’ll *really* see how well we get on :).

      • Interesting in the diversity of the different choices. I guess my daughter is kind of living communally in that she shares a house and chores, but whether true friendships grow from it, we’ll have to see. There are benefits to even this limited kind of shared living in that she tends toward depression and I think other people around is helpful. Good luck with your plans!

  28. ThePoliticalVagina

    So what is a person who has never for one reason or another reached ‘materialist’ never mind post?
    Success is to simply to have that food, safety and love.
    ‘Stuff’ has never been where it’s at.
    It accumulates all by itself, the universe does provide.
    Thanks for dropping by and liking my post and link to ‘The Buddhist View of Loneliness as a Good Thing.

  29. I love how you have included the image “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, created by J. Finkelstein, 2006”. What I share in my new paradigm blog, is that where society is involving into is an inverse of Maslow’s chart. Self awareness is at the bottom, at the point of the triangle, expanding into self awareness of the whole. You’ve inspired me to dedicate a blog to this new paradigm insight. Thanks! Gina

  30. Marcella

    This was such a wonderful post! Thank you for your insights and for reaffirming that less IS more!

  31. So Happy to read from people with à High Consciousness about Real Values !!! As I see it lots of People inclines to ” Think ” more then by what it is “See ” it and getting In a Higher Scale of Consciousness are the ones also coming from a Rich in Values Background !!! our Society work a lot against all this Called ” Old Values ” and tending to erase all about as being insignifiants for New Generations !!! In this term we all know that Traditions , Real Culture , Literature , Believes , Art , Philosophy , etc are less and less part of Children School education ! All what it is related to Soul and Consciousness are looking even Ridicoulous for Some and not so many taking the time and having interest to ” THINK ” outside the Box !!! Once you start to be AWARE and Pay Attention to people reactions and people behavior , we are becoming very Dissapointed !! As a Holistic Therapist I am CONSTANTELLY Working in this direction !!! Very Hard in North America to Rise the Consciousness of People more then Materialistic Side and over all what can be see it in a Constant Media Advertising !!! It is a lot to say about and fr me coming from Europe , I have more and more hard Time to deal with Ignorance , Selfisness , No Interest in Nothing else than primary necessity , Money Possesion Values , No Passions and not even a desire or curiosity to learn more !!! Peole pretending No time for Reading !! I have a Group and Professional Pages in FB !!! The Group it is Living with Passion & Awareness , being my orientation and having he Purpose of Teaching and Sharing all about Real Values , outside of Materialistic Concernings !!! OMG , very Hard to get a Comment or to really see it interest !!!! I still do my Mission and continue my Purpose but sometimes it is Hard to Talk alone !!!!!
    Thank You For Visiting my Blog and Very Happy to see people with Same Concernings and Having at Heart Humanity Destiny !!!!

  32. This made me grin a little, as earlier today I was looking at a book called “Clutter Busting” I’d picked up at the library. The premise is that your stuff doesn’t make you happy. After reading the first chapter, I realized I didn’t really need to bust my clutter, which made me happiest of all! How nice to visit this discussion, as I’m in a place of caring less about stuff, and more about good health, experiences and having some gratitude. The best thing of all is to meet like-minded people! Thank you for your thoughtful post.

  33. Wonderful post! I wasn’t familiar with this concept. My husband and I are post-materialists (apparently–who knew?), and are letting go of the stuff as part of focusing on the good things in life which for us are God, family, friends, and the outdoors. My husband is known for asking “Do you own your stuff, or does your stuff own you?” I’m sure that’s something he heard somewhere, but it’s a good question, no matter who first said it! Doesn’t take much to make us smile! Thank you for reading my post, “Short.”

  34. Clive Hamilton’s “Growth Fetish” sums it up for Australia.

  35. Thank you for the insight. I can’t say that I am a post materialist as I think I have always been frugal and don’t have a flair for extravagance; probably due to the vast amount if time I spent with my grandparents during my childhood. The lessons I learned from them are invaluable to me.

    Thank you for visiting my blog and reading “For the Love of…Rabbits?”


  36. Reblogged this on amoralegria and commented:
    The idea of post-materialism interests me because it relates to my thoughts lately regarding a non-growth economy. I believe it is possible to have an economy based on sustainability rather than growth. We are constantly hearing about the desirability and importance of increased “economic growth” to get our economy “back on track.” But how much can our economy continue to grow? Growth means increased consumerism, more material goods being made in polluting factories, more cars on the road, ever more airplanes taking off and landing. In other words, the more the economy grows, the closer we come to destroying the environment and dealing with the effects of global warming or climate change. Perhaps we need to adopt a new attitude: “Less is more.”

  37. Well said! I must be a POST POST materialist then. I live quite comfortably but have never owned a new couch in my 55 years of life. My husband has barred me from bringing anything into the house unless I have a home for it and because there is a bed bug epidemic just south of where we live. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not a hoarder. I recycle everything like they do in Africa and actually get pleasure from not spending money. I have started The Silozi Seed Bank to save seeds to take to Mongu, Zambia. I am saving seeds from the produce I buy to use now and dry the seeds on parchment paper. I have saved unused utility envelopes so I may hand out 100 seeds and the interest on those seeds will be 25 seeds as they do not have any money. I have also saved over 100 milk bags to use for planting seedlings and will continue to save them. I apologize for going on so, but you are right. The materialism has to stop. Thanks for the blog!

    • There was a saying popular here during the Great Depression. “Use it up, wear it out, or do without.” It helped people get in the mindset of living with less. Of course back then, there was this necessity because there was less. Now it is a choice. Unfortunately our grandparents aren’t here to show us how anymore. We have to lead the way.

  38. Much like your son, I too found great difficulty in finding a job, full time, part time and everything between. Therefore I decided to get out for a year or so. I ground out 5 months of mind numbing work in order to raise enough money, then, with my girlfriend we ‘disappeared’. Your article is fascinating and it’s interesting comparing your non – materialistic views with the way people are here in India. I will continue to follow you and look forward to further comparisons! I myself feel the same, less is often more…but still searching for the limit to this notion.



  39. Fascinating blog and very relevant to my current project. Thank you for writing this and raising awareness.

  40. Do you mind if I share this with my Zynga group? I always give credit where it is due, and I find this intriguing.

  41. Hi there! Do you mind if I repost about this to my couponing group? I think they would find this interesting.

  42. Absolutely right!!! Thanks for visiting my blog!

  43. As a post-materialist myself I can identify with this post. But I sure am glad to have a lot of materialists in my life, as material things sure come in handy sometimes. I think a healthy level of materialism doesn’t hurt.

    • I think we need the minimum level of materialism its true but as someone who has downsized in house footage and income (twice) and is working for the community for free, I have worked out very carefully just exactly what I need. I have still got a part-time job and a part- pension to fund my lifestyle its true, but we love to throw out (charity shops get our throw-outs) as often as we love to buy or even more often…Look at what you really need – we left higher paying jobs to enter the academic world because we preferred the values and stopped consuming so much. We have found that the greater our income the more we consume… surprising? No, I don’t think so. But are we satisfied now? More than.:)

  44. Thank you for reading my blog seekingmeaningfulness, and I liked reading yours. I agree lets stop consuming and enjoy family, friends and what we already have.

  45. What a great post! Thank you for visiting my blog and reading- I’m still pretty amazed at that…and, you can probably tell we are WAY post materialist. It has ups and downs but on the whole I for one would like to see the percentages of people choosing this path increasing. Thanks for a great post!

  46. Thanks for following my blog. I hope I can keep up writing about interesting activities here in Oaxaca. There is no shortage of wonderful things to do, see, and photograph, it’s the writing about them that takes time!
    I enjoyed your article about post materialism. Doing is so much more satisfying than Having, and it builds connections and memories.

  47. loopyg

    very thought provoking, and so true. Thanks for liking one of my blog posts otherwise I may not have found your site.

  48. I want to thank you for liking my blog because it brought me to yours. This is a fascinating and timely piece for me. Kids just out of college, father moving out of childhood home, dealing with all of the material possessions of everyone else’s life. It will be a long haul to rid myself of everyone else’s clutter, not to mention so much of my own. Baby steps.

  49. Hmm it seems like your site ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m
    thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an
    aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any tips for novice blog writers? I’d
    really appreciate it.

  50. When someone writes an post he/she keeps the idea of a user in his/her brain
    that how a user can know it. Thus that’s why this article is outstdanding. Thanks!

  51. Some of us came to these conclusions when quite young. Almost sixty years ago.

    Sure, a little slipping and sliding once in a while. But, not for long, not even for a significant portion of the total, the sum of years.

  52. Great post!

    We might benefit by being careful in all of this… as “thought” (in itself) is a material process. One can go beyond having physical possessions and then assume that one is way less of a materialist. However, if one still carries the burden of endless ideas of how things “should be” along with endless symbolic representations about “how things are”… one may be very materialistic. It is so easy to delude oneself.

    That’s a shame that your son (and others like him) have to struggle so hard just to even get a part-time job. Of course he must realize that it is in no way a measure of his worth or value… it is a measure of our broken, warped economy.

  53. irishroverpei

    Great blog and thank you for visiting my blog

  54. Reblogged this on Jeanette C. Patindol and commented:
    I was BORN a post-materialist! ;D

  55. A very worthy goal indeed! Actually, I am sharing this journey with you. I left my high-energy, very well paying job a year and a half ago and settled for much less income in exchange for more time for learning, self-exploration, and creativity as well as more contentment and happiness. No regrets at all!

  56. Great post. You mentioned what happens when we need material security but I think the discussion can be expanded to what happens when material stuffs are the most accessible and they derail us from goals that are more important to our happiness. Think of it: it’s so easy to spend money on a restaurant meal thinking it makes you happy then do a bit of yoga, Pilates, go hiking, meet new people, save money for traveling. Rather than postponing important goals we get lost in “instant gratification.”

  57. Interesting post. I think I came out of the womb as a post-materialst (mid-fifties!), even though I was surrounded by material things. I learned very early that possessions don’t bring happiness and that love and compassion are a vital component. As an adult, I have never had the wherewithal to be materialist! But oh, the joy of those little unexpected moments of happiness, be it a thought, a painting, a piece of music, a realisation. I am now going to ‘Pin’ Stumbling on Happiness.

    Much thanks for liking my Mark Twain quote post.


  58. Thanks for Liking our post. Maggie sends her best: WOOF WOOF
    Maslow was so spot on…. 🙂 🙂

  59. First, thanks a ton for liking my recent post! I had not heard of post-materialism before your article. Thanks for sharing! I am a huge fan of using maslow’s hierarchy as a guide for where I am landing in life. It’s so awesome to realize the universe is under the same laws:).

  60. One of the most interesting reads I’ve had in ages and I don’t mind saying some of the theories and ideas I’ll have to look up! Learning something new every day is a good thing. Thanks for sharing

  61. Happiness lies not in the materials we possess, but the thoughts that have taken possession of our mind and the happiness that resides in our heart. The reason why, I love to live in my past, where my childhood with vibrant colors of happiness and innocence resides. But owing to the fact that it has left more scars than sweet nothings, I don’t wanna live there either… I’m in a tangle!

    • The key lies in making peace of the past and moving into the present. Even scars have made us who we are. Holding on to pain makes you a perpetual victim and doesn’t punish the one who hurt you.

      • It is interesting this comment appeared today…I was just discussing why, having had an extremely traumatic childhood, I am so resilient as an adult. I think it’s because of what you said here…after heavy substance abuse in my early 20’s I saw it was only myself (and my support system) I was affecting. Excellent comment (from both of you—thanks!).

      • I call these kinds of connections synchs. Synchronicity at work in the universe. Reminds us that there is more at work than what we see.

  62. You should check out my favorite Post-Materialist, Mr. Money Mustache

  63. Another great post that gets the little grey cells working overtime!

  64. I learned the higharchy theory in business class many years ago. It use to work when people started at the bottom. It seems for generations young people have been given so much growing up that they don’t even think on the bottom rungs and want to start right at the top with all their needs met by parents who didn’t want their children to experience the hardships as well as joy of reaching the steps of growth. Get now, pay later, it is still materialistic isnt’ it?

    • Agreed wholeheartedly! But what happens now when an entitled generation looks around and finds that the promise of materialistic progress (doing as well or better than my parents) is unattainable? Do they say “Oh, well …” and start at the bottom or do they create something new? Have or will their values change?

  65. Reblogged this on Tales of Energy and commented:
    Totally agreed

  66. The pyramid gives the false impression that self-actualization is the last level. It might be the first level of spiritual improvement.

  67. Wow, I love it.
    Have you also read ” The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better” by R Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It’s very interesting and sheds (lots of!) light on many of the ills and inequalities in society today. the words ‘do better’ are somewhat misleading, they do actually talk about happiness levels in relation to material/economic statues, even country by country they have a graph and have done their research. Makes for an interesting read!
    Also a film “The economics of happiness” , talks a lot about out materialist culture among other things, the localisation vs globalisation movement, and what we can DO. this is where I came accross the same info regards US happiness levels peaking in 1950s and going “slowly but steadily down ever since then” despite the economic and material gains since that time .

  68. I’m delighted to have discovered your blog and thoughtful writing. It’s great to read entries that truly engage the mind. Thank you.

  69. Reblogged this on Suddenly Brilliance and commented:
    Nice overview. Well worth the read.

  70. Pingback: ARE YOU A POST MATERIALIST? | ellisnelson « Reason & Existenz

  71. There’s something to the notion that post-materialism may be the most advanced form of materialism. It’s extremely difficult to think about abstract needs such as self-expression when you are scrabbling for the next meal or a dry place to sleep. A certain degree of physical security is needed before the mind feels free to consider non-physical goals. I rather like thinking about ways in which post-materialism might be transformative. Thank you for discussing this so accessibly!

  72. wowbanger

    Happiness is one of a gazillion emotional states like joyful,upbeat,a bit cheery,not bad and so on infinitum. These waves of emotion pass through us randomly. I am pretty happy this morning. One thing that sort of sends a ripple of satisfactiion through me is learning about something new. For example I had not previously heard of the term post materialism. I can sort of file that one awaywith some of the other post terms like post modern,post human,post industrial and so on. I am not exactly stoked may be I am just mildly amused at learning this brand new word. As to post materialistic tendencies in my life. I have eschewed quite a lot of material things but if I look around me in the kitchen I still have a lot of stuff.

    • Post materialism doesn’t require you to give up any of your stuff. But if you’re a PM, then you are focusing on freedom and self-expression. Like learning new things! My freedom and self-expression has taken the form of getting rid of some stuff.

      • wowbanger

        The walden pond guy.Thoreaux? he was doing this in the 1800s but I think they called him transendentalist. i’m not too fond of tags. I love the sentiments he expresses.Blogging is a kind of stuff. its the kind of stuff we do to fill up the day.j

  73. cestgigi

    Yeah, my son likes to educate me, too. His comment yesterday was, ‘Mom,you’ve failed at parenting; it’s time to move on.’ Oh, well. This was a thought-provoking post, and perfectly timed for one of my yearly forays into the boxes of stuff I am still working on weeding out. My mother saved everything, being born in the twenties, and we didn’t get a lot of ‘stuff’ growing up, as success came to my parents. We did get a nicer house on acreage, and I finally got my horse, and then my parents got a divorce after thirty years of marriage. Then, they both pursued those things that made them happier, that they had put off. So, I’m not sure what I am; all those things I bought during twelve years of flying don’t mean that much anymore, and I would be just as happy living like Kinsey Milhone.

  74. Yes, I most definitiely am!

  75. Great article- I think that about sums me up! What sort of work is your son looking for? Just curious. What is he studying and what is he interested in?

    • He’s third year at a Canadian university in International Studies. Right now he’s just looking for part time work to supplement and give him some money for study abroad that will happen next fall. It always seemed that the Canadian economy was more stable than the US because he watched his friends get jobs easily but things seem to be changing now. I saw an article about the Vancouver housing market which seems to be tanking.

  76. This a reworking of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of needs”. The aims are laudable and the notion of divorcing ourselves from obsessive materialism recurs during every economic downturn (I remember lots of my friends giving up their stripy suits and turning to crystals in the early 90’s)… Two and a half thousand years ago Buddhist teaching posited that the endless search for satiated desire led us on an inevitable downward ark to despair and emptiness….but did many people truly listen… No!
    Man’s favourite pastime is to repeat mistakes (just look at the banking crises that have plagued us from 15th Century onwards).
    Post-materialism is a valid concept that will be forgotten as soon as the next economic upturn offers us more products to lust after…

  77. I remember back in the eighties there was something called chosen simplicity or some other word in front of simplicity. It was about managing with what we have, making choices that were sustainable and benefitted the planet and living simply without unnecessary gadgets or luxuries – however you defined those!

  78. I enjoyed your post. I haven’t read the books mentioned, but my knee-jerk cringe was Typehype’s observation that happiness was definitely not peaking for many in this country in the 50’s. (I was born in the 50’s.) The landmark case of Brown v. the Bd of Ed was handed down in 1954 but didn’t really go into effect until years later; Little Rock High School was not integrated until 1957; the Voting Rights Act didn’t go into effect until 1965; by 1968, at least 4700 people of color were “reported” as having been lynched; Jim Crow laws which mandated segregation were being enacted as late as 1965 — just to note a few things that wouldn’t make me or my loved ones happy. Happiness is not something that I stumbled upon but center in daily prayer as the love, peace and divine ideas that should unite us all. And so while post-materialism appears to be a nice category to fall in, it seems limited to souls who were bound by materialism, selfishness, prejudice, and greed to begin with. Is “post-materialist” a pat on the backs of those of us who got rid of a few material things, or is it a calling for us to be someone greater than Maslow was capable of envisioning? I think it’s the latter.

  79. victoriaaphotography

    I’ve certainly disposed or given away a lot of my excess ‘stuff’ in recent years. In enforced retirement due to chronic ill health, I concentrate on the simplest life I can possibly lead and am loving it (despite the health symptoms).
    I think many people in this stressed global economic and environmental climate will start to look at how they live their lives in 2013.

  80. Great post. A while back, I blogged on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, too. (
    I discovered Maslow in college, in an Industrial Psych class and have never forgotten his theory. I think it would benefit us all if politicians stopped going on and on about the “American Dream.” This so-called “Dream” was fostered by advertisers and embraced by people living in a fantasy world. I don’t know if I agree with that statistic about happiness peaking in the 1950s, either. Perhaps, if you were not female or member of a minority group (people of color, immigrants, homosexuals…), it existed for you (or at least, in your mind you wished it so).

  81. Be Well And Happy

    great post. I haven’t read the book but may take a look. I think the shift away from consumerism is beginning to happen – people are looking for deeper meaning.

  82. Nicely written. Yet we are defined as consumers in a consumer society, which I reject wholeheartedly for myself. I think that term is an example of a related undercurrent; a gross over emphasis on reductionism. Reductionism can be a very beneficial tool but, from mandatory sentencing in courts to standardized testing in schools, it is, more and more, used to dehumanize us. The tail now wags the dog so that we are in service of the tool that was meant to serve us. To serve man. It’s a cookbook.

  83. My hubby and I work at the same company and we recently found out we are frequently “the talk of the office” because we are dual income and “live in a dinky little house.” Besides being unnerved about how many people know where we live, we love our country cottage and live there because of all the time we’ve invested in the interior…silly little things like pocket doors and hidden bookcases. My mom often says “why do that you’ll NEVER get your $$$ back out of it.” I am proud when I hear these things and REALLY enjoyed your article. I will admit, however, we are guilty of not socking enough away due to vacations and visiting remote family and do need to tighten that up a bit. Thank you!

  84. About fifteen years ago, my wife and I realized that, though we were more secure, we were happier when we were young, poor, and struggling to make ends meet. This was a revelation to us. We then began a program of what we called “simplification,” which included actively eschewing all the new toys and upgrades, and actively remembering to be grateful for what we had. I guess this is similar to what post-materialism is about (I haven’t read that book).

    • It’s definitely a part of Gilbert’s book. Strictly speaking post materialism wouldn’t have you give up any of your possessions or simplify anything. It would rather be about you and your wife looking for ways to fulfill your dreams (like going back to school, taking up piano, traveling, volunteering at a hospice, whatever). The desire for simplification I think is post materialism evolved to meet our current environment .

  85. Russell Bradley

    Hi Ellis I don’t feel that its the subject that has people organised around you for comment, I think it is your reasoned mind that is so attractive.
    However an understanding of the immanent economic collapse, is Evident to any one who is the least bit interested.
    The bond market is so blown up by the insanity of this totally corrupt system it is going to burst.
    That being said, this time of knowing thine own self, not as a consumer but as human being is also coming fast on the horizon. Its point of interception with that bond market collapse will make post materialists of every one.
    Always a delight to read your posts as your honesty and acceptance of the divine will echoes in your words.

    • In the US, the concern has been focused on the nation’s fiscal budget crisis. So it’s a relatively short attention span issue, really.

      But there is a genuine feeling among the 20-somethings that our recession isn’t a blip but rather the establishment of a new norm and this has generated real fear that this generation will not do better than its parents economically. We (me included) raised these kids with high expectations and now we can’t produce those promises. We have to move to create a new society where people can find their place and cover their needs. We’re going to need a cosmic shift!!

  86. Will and Eko

    Great post – Dan Gilbert also has some really cool TED talks that I definitely recommend checking out.

  87. andydharma

    Yes, I’ve read the book, Stumbling on Happiness myself, and what a wonderful read it is! So enlightening and so funny! One of the research findings in the book that I found so interesting was that which showed that we humans are terrible at predicting what it is that will make us happy, and end up being so surprised at finding out what actually makes us happy! Great post, Ellis!

  88. Post materialism rocks! Never heard of it before, but it sounds like the only sensible way to go. Guilty as charged 🙂 But I don’t agree that you have to be financially secure before you can go beyond materialism. Isn’t it more of an attitude based on values?

    • I think it has to do with an individual’s definition of what basic needs are. Some people are happy/content with less, but I still feel you probably need to be eating on a regular basis to give a lot of thought to finding yourself or making a unique contribution to the world. I don’t think these theories really address those of us who want to live a nun or monk’s life of poverty.

  89. What an interesting theory. I do think that with the enlarging gap in social status and the unemployment rate continuing to be so high many people are sliding back to meeting base needs, which could look a lot like post-materialism when the attitudes of privilege remain.

    • Yeah, it’s been arged that post materialism is the most advanced form of materialism, but as we take note of our lack of happiness this is transformed. I’m wondering if maybe we’re developing a modern version of post materialism which contains an element of living more simply. In Germany, some research suggests that when a society hits hard economic times there is also a backslide to materialism and covering basic needs.

  90. What an interesting post! I searched the data base at the public library and ordered the book (Stumbling on Happiness). I’m looking forward to reading it. Thank you!

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