Are We Hypocrites?: A Discussion about Materialism and Mindfulness

Not long ago I was in Singapore and bumped into a long line stretching around the corner. The excitement of whatever these people were waiting for pulsed through the streets of the city. What was it? The latest Louis Vuitton bag. Now, if I had followed some of these people after they bought their bag, I probably would see them stuff lululemon pants and yoga mats into it and end up at a yoga studio or meditation course.

This got me thinking. Is this global phenomenon of materialism and mindfulness—lusting over material objects yet learning exercises to be centered, conscious, and mindful—a contradiction? Do we find the same sense of pleasure or inner-peace by achieving a “live in the moment attitude” as we do coveting the newest Prada sunglasses?

In the workplace, everyone’s talking about compassion, transparency, ethics, and conscious business. But in the same breath, they’re talking about the latest iPhone or newest Gucci shoe line. There’s a mass surge for materialism worldwide, particularly in what I call the emerged markets such as Russia, China or the United Arab Emirates, where buying name brands gives the appearance of having success and status and therefore gains the respect of others.

At the same time, there’s a mass surge for mindfulness, workplace wellness, social responsibility, and social consciousness. People are taking work-life balance courses and more businesses are holding workplace yoga and meditation sessions to help employees get in touch with their inner-selves and heal the mind and body. But as soon as we step off the mat, we’re back to trying to keep up with the latest consumer trends.

I find it odd how materialism and mindfulness seem to coexist so peacefully. I grew up in a generation where, if you practiced yoga, you weren’t wearing $200 pants. Your sweats had holes in them because what you were wearing didn’t matter. What you were doing did. Eating organic meant eating something grown in your backyard—not leaving your whole paycheck at Whole Foods.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy beautiful things and name brands as much as the next person. And I’m not afraid to tell you that I waited hours for my new iPhone not because I needed it but because I wanted it. But I don’t think these external things define who I am or give me a sense of inner-peace. So why do we need to practice both materialism and mindfulness?

While I may see these acts as running counter to one another, maybe I’m missing something and I want to hear from you:

Do you see materialism and mindfulness as contradictory?

If you do, what do you think would remedy this contradiction, or dare I say, hypocrisy?

If you don’t see it as contradictory, where do you think we’ll be in twenty years? Where will materialism and consumerism be then? What about mindfulness?

Fotolia: kikkerdirk

Five Friday Highlights: Mindfulness and Happiness

Gender Parity

I just returned from a great trip to Buenos Aires, working with women at SAP on advancement strategies. The group was energetic, positive, and receptive to learning. We enjoyed each other’s company and I feel positive these women will apply what they learned!

This week, I’m stepping back from the cultural observation to focus on selections that are more universal in nature. We are always wise to be continuous learners, about work and life in general.

Who doesn’t want to be happy and successful? In Want to Be Happy and Successful? Brene Brown Says Do This, I loved the seven recommendations shared by Dr. Brown. I was especially struck by “It is so important to feel who we are without needing material goods or hobbies to validate ourselves.” So true!

Sometimes, when I read articles like the one referenced above, I am grateful to have had enough life experience to know why advice like “it is important to feel who we are” is so applicable. Although I don’t think it makes sense to assume millennials “don’t get it” regarding many pieces of life advice, I do agree there are some lessons you can only  learn by living them. Maybe 8 Habits That Make Millennials Stressed, Anxious and Unproductive can at least help a millennial or two bypass the worst of it. One of the best pieces of advice is to avoid “hanging out with anxious people.” It has certainly been true for  me. We absorb the vibes we surround ourselves with.

We absorb the vibes we surround ourselves with. {TWEET THIS}

When I read Workplace Stress:  Do You Know Where it Comes From?, I was intrigued by a few of the suggestions. I especially keep turning this proposed strategy for managing workplace stress over in my mind: “Look for opportunities to learn skills or take on more responsibility.” While it seems counterintuitive to take on MORE when you’re already feeling stressed, perhaps for some people, additional responsibility that is more aligned with their skill set may actually reduce stress.

Speaking of taking on responsibility, none of the entrepreneurs featured in 20 Successful Entrepreneurs Share the Most Important Lesson They Learned in Their 20s avoided taking on massive amounts of it. Each of them learned valuable lessons along the way. This one is still kicking around in my mind: “You can never fire anyone too soon.” While the reference is to being decisive, I suspect part of that lesson is “you have to hire the right people in the first place.”

No matter what your generation or geography, I am a strong believer in the power of mindfulness. In Musts for Being Mindfully Present, Scott Mautz reminds readers that mindfulness “reduces aggression because the ego doesn’t come into play as you’re focusing on what’s in front of you, not what it says.” We could all do with less aggression in the world, right?


On a closing note, I am thrilled to announce that I have been accepted by Inc. as a regular contributor! I will be writing on topics related to cultural awareness and global business. It’s all extremely exciting and I’ll be looking forward to sharing my articles with you!

inc logo melissa