Materialism vs experientialism is a wrong dichotomy

Common life advice: don’t take pleasure in material goods. Seek experiences instead.

I think this is a wrong dichotomy. Not a false dichotomy, but a dichotomy that fails to capture what really matters. The proper advice isn’t “seek experiences, eschew materials”, but “seek utility, eschew dick-measuring”.

There are basically two reasons why we might want material goods. First, it’s useful to us in some way, or gives us pleasure. A fast laptop lets us work faster. Nice speakers let us enjoy music more.

Second, we might derive personal worth from it. We might feel pride in owning the latest model of a laptop. We might feel jealous when we see someone with nicer speakers than us.

These are the exact same two reasons why we might seek experiences. A trip abroad can relieve stress and clear the mind, improving productivity, and a delicious meal can be extremely pleasurable and impart fantastic memories. On the flip side, we may feel a smug superiority from having visited more countries than someone, or a pang of jealousy on hearing that a friend’s best meal was more luxurious than our own.

The materialism/experientialism dichotomy paints materialism as intrinsically bad and experientialism as intrinsically good. Neither is true. Materialism just tends to associate with dick-measuring, which is generally bad, while experientialism tends to associate with pleasure, which is generally good.

These associations are not universal, though. As a personal example, I noticed one day that I was hoarding “cool experiences”—places traveled, restaurants sampled, activities tried—in much the same way people hoard material possessions. I found myself taking pride in being able to tell cooler stories than the people around me. At times it was almost like I was purchasing invisible badges saying “I’ve experienced XYZ! Have you?”

This isn’t materialism, but it’s totally still a form of dick-measuring.

6 thoughts on “Materialism vs experientialism is a wrong dichotomy

  1. Brice Bothwell

    I enjoyed your article “Materialism vs Experientialism…”. I’m currently in a writing class for my bachelors and our assignment was to analyze and summarize a source (“Buy Experiences, Not Things” by James Hamblin) .
    Anyway my thesis is to show that material things can be just as good for obtaining happiness without hedonic adaption.
    My aspect is referencing an ATV, kayak, clothes, cell phone, etc…
    I am using your article as a reference while trying to find more research or documents.

    Brice B.
    OIT student

  2. Compta

    Biuro rachunkowe obsługuje nie tylko zlecenia stałych klientów. Należą do nich małe i średnie firmy, ale także duże przedsiębiorstwa.


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