If not more ‘getting and spending’, then what?

Peter Chao // July 16, 2018, 5:00 am


Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

“My food,” Jesus said, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)

The International New York Times (INYT) reported that a Massachusetts psychologist found from research that materialism is not only bad for the soul, it is also bad for our emotional well-being.

“Researchers have reported an ever-growing list of downsides to getting and spending – damage to relationships and self-esteem, a heightened risk of depression and anxiety, less time for what the research indicates truly makes people happy, like family, friendship and engaging work. And maybe even headaches.”

Why is materialism so widespread when its pursuit is not fulfilling?

Citing the research of Tim Kasser, a psychology professor at Knox College in Illinois, the INYT reported that “feelings of insecurity incline people toward materialist values … and that insecurity can also lead to relationship troubles and other problems associated with a materialistic lifestyle.”  

Kasser is said to further argue that “when people turn to material things to feel better, they compound the problem, because they seek experiences that ‘don’t do a very good job of meeting their psychological needs.’ ”

So, why is materialism so widespread when its pursuit is not fulfilling?

The INYT quotes Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert: “If it were the case that money made us totally miserable, we’d figure out we were wrong to pursue it … but, 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.”

There’s another road

Jesus points us to an alternative life pursuit that is more fulfilling. He exemplifies that satisfying quest when He declares: “The food that keeps Me going is that I do the will of the One who sent Me, finishing the work He started.” (John 4:34)

What kind of a life could be counted as fulfilling?

  1. It is a life that is correctly consumed. It is like food and drink that sustains life. It is a burning desire that fires the imagination and drives the will. Not half-heartedness. Not wishy-washy, weather vane, unpredictable, undependable promises, but a commitment that is a statement of what the person stands for.
  2. A fulfilling life is marked by commitment to God and the desire to do His will. The calling is clear, the passion is focused. I have not met anyone who is fulfilled who is not also passionately committed. Correctly consumed.
  3. Thirdly, a fulfilling life is highlighted by the desire to complete the mission. No distraction, no obstacle and no detractor can trip up that person’s commitment. If God started the work, then a committed person’s desire is to bring it to completion.

Concluding the INYT article, Daniel Gilbert indicates he is sceptical people will give up the pursuit of materialism: “Let’s give them the data. Let’s shout it from the mountaintops, but let’s not be too surprised when all the people in the valley nod their heads knowingly and then go on to covet a Porsche and a new home and tickets to the Super Bowl.”

Will Christians be numbered among those in that valley? We can fix our eyes on the tangibles and end up less than fulfilled. Or we can decide to do His will and fix our eyes on the fields that are “ripe for harvest” (Luke 10:2) and give our lives to a far more fulfilling vocation.

After all, if everything on earth is meaningless, as the Wisdom Writer attests (Ecclesiastes chapter 1), then perhaps we should lift our sights above the earth.

This article is an excerpt from the book, Ponderings En Route (Singapore, Eagles Communications, 2018) and is republished with permission. The book will be launched on Thursday, July 19, at the Eagles’ 50th anniversary celebration and is available for purchase at

About the author

Peter Chao

Peter Chao is the founder of Eagles Communications. As its main evangelist, Peter is a persuasive and captivating public speaker, and is equally incisive and nurturing in his role as mentor to leaders of corporations. He received his graduate training at Peter F Drucker and Masatoshi Ito School of Management, Claremont Graduate University, California.