Categories: Rector's Corner

The American Dream, Consumerism, and Your Life’s Purpose

Last week, I started a book study on Adam Hamilton’s Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity. In the first chapter of this short book, Hamilton talked about the lie of the American Dream that promises us that it is through materialism and consumerism that we will find our true joy.


I think we can all agree that the pursuit of “the good life” and the betterment of one’s economic situation have always been at the heart of this land of great opportunity. To live in a country that affords such opportunity is indeed a gift – one for which we can be grateful. But is there a point at which the pursuit of more becomes problematic?


I recently came across an article by Amitai Etzioni, professor of Sociology at George Washington University, in which he articulates the exact point at which basic consumption morphs into what he calls the “social disease” of consumerism:


“It is useful to draw on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. At the bottom of this hierarchy are basic creature comforts; once these are sated, more satisfaction is drawn from affection, self-esteem and, finally, self-actualization. As long as consumption is focused on satisfying basic human needs – safety, shelter, food, clothing, health care, education – it is not consumerism. But when, on attempts to satisfy these higher needs through the simple acquisition of goods and services, consumption turns into consumerism – and consumerism becomes a social disease.” (Click here for the full article)


Circling back to our Lenten book, Hamilton suggests that one of the best ways to help curb unchecked consumerism is to clarify our purpose in life. Is our purpose simply to consume as much as we can and to get as much pleasure as we can, or are we called to something greater? It’s only in light of the answer to this question that we can then begin to seek alignment between our resources and our purpose.


I hope that you will take a moment this Lent to consider this question, and to reflect on how your spending aligns with your purpose. Hamilton’s book is a great resource to help you in this exploration.


Grace and Peace,