A Personal Story – And The Question

The other day I finally gathered enough courage to do it. I sent an email to my college boyfriend of over a decade ago and promptly asked for my copy of The Fountainhead back. He borrowed my copy never to return it. The copy of a book I had read in high school in the span of 2 weeks, a book that left me with an indelible impression, the book I had underlined, written in, and slept with and lost much sleep over. I wanted it back. And only that copy would do.

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When my mom went on her recent trip back to our home country of Iran, I asked for the strangest souvenir. I wanted her to find any shred of my childhood, things we had left behind without knowing we shall not return to them. Anything tangible. Anything at all.

And when I lost the special emerald and diamond ring which my grandparents had purchased from their Japan trip in the 1950s, handed down to me from my Mom, I looked for it everywhere. For weeks, for months, for years, I looked in every inch of our old house and still held out hope. When we finally moved, I knew that I will never see that ring again. And today I can still feel myself ache for it.

So does all of this make me a materialistic person? Perhaps. But what of it? We hear so much about how materialism is a negative energy, and that life is fleeting, we should not hold on to things. In philosophy, in religion, in spirituality, and even in some self-improvement journeys, we are likely to hear the importance of detachment to a materialistic world.

There is merit in living free of all attachment to things but for most of us, if subscribed to that theory, we would either have to live outside of modern society or else we would be juggling guilt and pleasure while balancing life in a materialistic world.

Neither option is very appealing, and both are quite unnecessary.

I believe living with attachments in a materialistic world can bring us happiness and fulfillment, and it can serve us well if we have the right perspective, values, and intentions.

Attachments To Different Types Of Materialism

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Not all material things are created equal, and not all people have similar likes, especially in a world of whirlwind commerce and merchandise. Our tastes and preferences greatly vary but that is immaterial (no pun intended!) to our happiness of material things. Perspective, values, and intention are all that matter in creating either a constructive or destructive materialist reality around us, regardless of type!

With the right mindset, we can turn any materialism into a constructive means to achieve a better life for ourselves, our community and the society around us. Let’s explore 4 types of materialism:

All Things From Childhood Memories

I think most of us can appreciate tangibles from our childhood. Memories left in a box, in an attic or in my case, in a different country on the other side of the world! These items can have a powerful effect on us. They can be therapeutic and restorative since they remind us of when we were pure innocence. We can let them bring us closer to our childhood, to our beginning, and remind us of the past, and of the miracle of time and growth. By the same token, over-accumulation of anything can lose sight of initial purpose. Those of us who hold on to absolutely everything over the course of our lives must find ways to let go, to be selective and to refuse to accumulate clutter in our houses or our minds.

All Things Mementos And Souvenirs

The things we collect over time in our travels and adventures through life can be quite attachable. I am usually nursing an unusual attachment to souvenirs from foreign lands, regardless of their perceived or actual value. My attachment to these items is by association. I simply associate travel memories to them and feel fulfilled to have brought a piece of the far away land back home with me. But sometimes, this can become obsessive. Purchasing a souvenir everywhere even if the available options go against my standards and likes does not serve me well. Souvenirs for the sake of souvenirs can never have that special appeal. It’s important to be true to ourselves and not forsake values for force of habit

All Things Brand Name

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I have only recently allowed myself the luxury of some brand names. My main reason is the quality. But brand names are a complex psychology and quality alone is not always a sensible reason. In Japan, Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton and Chanel define a person’s status in society. To a slightly lesser degree, brand names speak volumes about one’s social status in Iran. In the workplace and for teenagers, brand names can carry a lot of peer pressure. Brand names can entice some of us to fall into compulsive buying behaviors but we can opt in for more grounded reasons instead. All my life, I had wanted to have my own Cartier ring. Aside from an established brand and service, for me, this ring represents a French line of jewelry that is eternal as Paris itself. It is a symbol of my financial security and I celebrated it with a Cartier. I am terribly attached to it. It is important to recognize what attracts us to the brands, to define the reason and the behavior and to then decide whether it is serving us or taking away from us. Are we searching in vain for some illusion of status in society of friends or strangers, or do we really and truly desire that top brand for our own use and reasons?

All Things Luxurious And Opulent

I happen to consider wealth a very good thing with the right perspective and intention. When society “blames” wealth as a downfall of celebrities, obscenely wealthy people, or those ‘lucky’ lottery winners, I shudder. Wealth has no will of its own. Wealth does not talk, walk or make decisions. People do. And it is people who fail or succeed. There is no one to blame but ourselves if our wealth brings us misery. Wealth is an instrument that can be used for good or not-so-good. We are the judge. If we are a grounded person, with firm values and a purpose and plan in our life, wealth can be the great enabler in our path. Luxury and opulence then, may they be our just reward. It is when wealth is sought for the sake of accumulation of wealth that misery usually arises. It is when there is no plan or purpose for the wealth that over-indulgence and over-consumption patterns emerge. People can do as they wish but the latter is usually destructive, and the former, often highly constructive. The choice lies within us.

Embracing The Material World In The Right Light

Materialism is a concept, and material things are just that – things. We are the ones attaching value, notions, ideas, status, illusions, and assumptions to them. Why not let them serve us instead?

Be it a luxury life, a Chanel bag, a simple memento from a friend long since departed, or an old beloved book, I want to challenge you to find reasons to embrace the material possessions of your life. Take pleasure and delight of the things that have a meaning to you, things that bring you joy, happiness, smiles, and at times, closer to your memories. Be grateful, be selective, be true to what you like, and practice balance in all things, even in the art of attachment to materialism.