Viewpoint: Finding Happiness in a Material World

Contributed By the Church News

  • 29 March 2015

For better or worse, money can change lives and has the potential of blessing lives or drawing a person away from God.

Article Highlights

  • Materialism is the tendency to consider material possessions as more important than spiritual values.
  • A BYU study showed that couples who focused less on money had more stable marriages.

“To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy.” —President Thomas S. Monson

 

At the beginning of March, Forbes.com published a list of the 500 richest people in the world. The top person had an estimated wealth of almost $80 billion, enough to spend $2.7 million a day for 80 years.

For almost three decades, this extremely popular report has generated great interest in the media.

Presiding Bishop John H. Vandenberg said, “The great [question] of the twentieth century is, ‘How can I acquire wealth?’ No question occupies a larger place in the minds and … hearts of … people today than this. Millions … in our land worship at the shrine of mammon. … This is true of men in every station and in every walk of life” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1965, 131; quoting Morris Chalfant, “The Sin of the Church,” Wesleyan Methodist).

Money is a medium of exchange that can be traded for a variety of goods and services all over the world. For better or worse, money can change lives and has the potential of blessing lives or drawing a person away from God. Brigham Young is quoted as saying, “The worst fear … I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church. … My greater fear … is that they cannot stand wealth” (in Bryant S. Hinckley, The Faith of Our Pioneer Fathers [1956], 13).

Oxforddictionaries.com defines materialism as “a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values,” something the scriptures caution against: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Speaking about materialism, Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor, told the New York Times, “If it were the case that money made us totally miserable, we’d figure out we were wrong to pursue it. It’s wrong in a more nuanced way. We think money will bring lots of happiness for a long time, and actually it brings a little happiness for a short time” (“Materialism Is bad for You,” www.nytimes.com/2006/02/08/health/08iht-snmat.html‎).

Relating materialism to relationships, Professor Jason Carroll at BYU published a study in 2011 in which he surveyed 1,734 married couples across the country. They were each given a relationship evaluation survey containing questions that explored how much they value “having money and lots of things.”

What the BYU researchers found using a statistical analysis was that couples who said money was not important to them scored 10 to 15 percent higher on marriage stability and other measures of relationship quality than couples where one or both were considered materialistic. (See news.byu.edu/archive11-oct-materialism.aspx.)

In the Book of Mormon, we find cautionary counsel: “Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted” (2 Nephi 9:51).

In an April 1999 general conference talk, Elder Joe J. Christensen of the Seventy said, “There are some of the wealthy who deal with their prosperity very well using their resources to bless others and build the kingdom. For many, however, wealth presents major difficulties.” To tackle materialism, he offered some specific suggestions: do not confuse wants with needs, avoid spoiling children, live modestly, avoid debt, and be generous in giving to others.

One dangerous aspect to materialism is the false identity it creates in the mind of an individual. People might equate their self-worth based on the things they own. The December 2010 New Era states, “As children of our Heavenly Father, we have a divine identity and potential, but Satan wants us to forget this fact. When we doubt our divine nature and lose confidence in ourselves, we are more prone to fill the void with worldly things—with the outward trappings of coolness, prosperity, abundance, pleasure, or acceptance” (“Enough Stuff: Five Tips for Tackling Materialism”).

In the New Testament, we are told, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).

In 2003, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that “happiness is advanced more by allocating discretionary income toward the acquisition of life experiences than toward the acquisition of material possessions.” Therefore, time spent with family, going on vacation, serving others, and creating positive experiences brings greater happiness.

Seeking happiness is not forbidden in the kingdom of God, but, as with other things, we must learn to seek happiness in the Lord’s way. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 255–56).

“To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves,” said President Thomas S. Monson. “No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy” (“The Lord’s Way,” Ensign, May 1990, 93).