ALMOST a cliché. Time and time again, you'll hear AA
members talk about what's happened to them in the way
of financial recovery, then quickly add, "But material
things don't count. Money doesn't buy happiness. You
don't have to drive a Cadillac to feel good."
its form, the statement makes me uneasy. It is true
that excessive materialism is one of the curses of our
age, and that many of us have come to grief while in
pursuit of the god of business success. Others have
been disillusioned when they found success and it turned
to ashes in their grasp. And there's no doubt that material
things are limited in their power to give us what we
really need in life. Materialism should be modified.
But dare we push this modification to the point of saying
that material things don't count at all?
there's almost a trace of hypocrisy in these announcements.
An AA member speaks at our group and tells with great
joy of his emancipation from the need to own a Cadillac.
Walking with him to the parking lot, I am then astonished
to see him slide behind the wheel of his new Caddy for
the trip home. If Cadillacs don't, count, why is he
driving one? Why didn't he buy a compact and give the
difference to charity?
take the occasional member who lectures the destitute
down-and-outer. Outside, the temperatures are falling,
and the newcomer wonders where he will sleep that night.
He has stumbled confused into AA, partly for hope and
partly to bum the price of a night's lodging. Before
he knows it, somebody is telling him not to be preoccupied
with "material things," because his first need is to
point is not just to express disapproval of such thoughtlessness--many
of us have been guilty of it. Rather, I think we should
aim for a realistic view of material things, so that
we don't make fools of ourselves by dismissing them
out of hand, and at the same time don't make slaves
of ourselves by letting materialism become our be-all
is obvious, too, that few people really believe anybody
who speaks out against materialism or money. The world
has few genuine Thoreaus or Gandhis, and most of us
pursue money to a certain degree. We also live in a
type of world that is virtually uninhabitable without
money. Many of us could not even get to work without
an automobile, and we have countless other fixed obligations
to meet: shelter, clothing, heat, lights, food, taxes,
education, medical expenses. A person who tried to get
by without these necessities in our present society
wouldn't be admired; he would be thought irresponsible.
problem with materialism grows out of the false views
we have towards money; money itself is not the problem.
These false views involve a tendency to ascribe too
much power to money, to see it as an answer to every
human problem and need. Perhaps we are unconsciously
inclined to assume that, since a certain amount of money
is very good, increasing amounts will bring proportionate
increases of good. But it does not work this way. The
power of money is limited; it is completely ineffective
in satisfying some needs, though it may be indispensable
in satisfying certain others.
will money do? In general, it will purchase comfort,
convenience, and means of pleasure--material things.
If you have money, you can live in a comfortable home,
have appliances, automobiles, and services for your
convenience, and seek pleasure through vacation trips
and frequent entertainment.
if a person is basically unhappy, he cannot be made
happy by obtaining comfort and convenience. It is not
at all uncommon to find some of the unhappiest people
in fine suburban homes. This does not prove that fine
suburban homes are bad for happiness. It only shows
that the source of happiness is never in "things."
it would be silly to leap from this observation to the
belief that one can be happy though destitute. Unhappiness
and actual destitution seem to go hand in hand. The
destitute person is so deprived of the basic necessities
of ordinary living that he becomes preoccupied with
fear and need; hence, he is unhappy. A friend who has
had several financial setbacks in his life tells me
that he fears destitution, but not poverty. He sees
poverty only as a low standard of living. As a rule,
poor people still have a roof, three meals, and (in
the U.S.) often a car of some kind. But destitute people
have nothing. One could be poor and happy; one could
rarely be destitute and happy.
have found a personal answer by seeing material things
as spiritual ideas. God made the physical world, as
well as the spiritual and mental. It is our job to use
material things properly, seeing them just as things
to use and not as objects for either worship or condemnation.
It is also our job to use spiritual ideas and principles
properly, recognizing that, while they are superior
to material things, they do not replace the material.
we could get the most balanced view of this if we looked
upon both money and spiritual principles as "tools"
for good living. A competent artisan knows that he must
have an assortment of tools in his kit to perform any
job well, and he uses each tool for a specific purpose.
He does not condemn the saw because it is not a good
hammer, and he does not throw away his plane because
it will not drill holes. He uses each tool for its intended
purpose and completes the job.
recovered alcoholics, we naturally want to live in reasonable
comfort with all the happiness and personal fulfillment
we can find. It is up to us to enhance this comfortable
life with a healthy spiritual outlook--an outlook characterized
by feelings of gratitude, goodwill, optimism, and unselfishness.
Such an outlook includes a practical appreciation of
the value in material things. We know, then, that material
things do matter--but not to the exclusion of other
values in life.