Why We Buy Things We Don’t Need

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

Imagine for a moment, you’re standing in the center of a luxurious shopping mall, your arms heavy with shopping bags brimming with the latest fashion, cutting-edge tech gadgets, and high-end accessories. Every shiny object you possess promises happiness, each one a new coat of paint on your carefully crafted facade. The brands you wear, the car you drive, the decor of your home – each of these items serves as a carefully chosen piece in your elaborate tapestry of identity. This is the world of “having.”

In this world, the more you accumulate, the more substantial you feel. Yet, there’s a constant undercurrent of unease. Beneath the shiny surface, a nagging emptiness persists. The glimmer of new acquisitions dims quickly, replaced by a restless craving for the next thing. Even as you gather, you can’t shake off the gnawing suspicion that something essential is missing. But, what could that be when you have so much?

Now, imagine a different scene. You’re seated quietly by a serene lake, watching the sunset splash vibrant hues against the canvas of the sky. The cool grass beneath you, the gentle breeze whispering through the leaves, the rhythmic song of the nearby stream – it’s just you being present in this world, not as a collector, but as an active participant.

Here, there are no possessions to validate your worth, no acquisitions to strengthen your identity. It’s just you, stripped of societal labels, experiencing life in its raw, unfiltered form. You’re aware, open, and fully engaged with your surroundings. You find joy in the simple act of existing, in relationships, in love, and in personal growth. There’s a sense of peace and fulfillment that springs from within, untethered to the transitory thrill of possessions. This is the world of “being.”

The difference is profound. One world thrives on acquisition, with happiness always a purchase away. The other draws its essence from the simple, profound act of existing, of participating in the world without the constant need to possess. One leaves you restless, the other, at peace. The question now is, which world would you choose to inhabit?

Despite the profound allure of the ‘being’ mode, many of us find ourselves entrenched in the ‘having’ mode. The primary reason for this lies in societal conditioning. We grow up in a world that equates success with accumulation, teaching us to measure our worth in terms of material possessions and societal status. This creates a constant, frenzied pursuit of more – more wealth, more success, more objects. The ‘having’ mode offers us a tangible, quantifiable way to gauge our progress and standing, feeding into our primal need for security and acceptance. Additionally, the instantaneous nature of gratification in the ‘having’ mode often overshadows the deep, lasting contentment of the ‘being’ mode, which demands patience, self-reflection, and a break away from societal norms. The familiarity and immediate reward of the ‘having’ mode, combined with societal pressures, often makes it difficult for us to break free and fully embrace the ‘being’ mode.

Having vs. Being

Erich Fromm, a renowned social psychologist, psychoanalyst, and humanistic philosopher, proposed a distinct perspective on the concept of selfhood. Fromm saw the self not as a static entity but as a dynamic process of relating to the world. He argued that our relationship with the world and with ourselves is shaped by two primary modes of existence: ‘having’ and ‘being.’ These modes aren’t just ways we interact with external objects or individuals, but they also fundamentally shape our understanding and experience of selfhood.

The ‘having’ mode, as Fromm defines it, is characterized by possession, acquisition, and consumption. It is about owning and controlling, with the self often defined by what one has. On the other hand, the ‘being’ mode is about experiencing and relating, with emphasis on authenticity and presence. The ‘being’ mode is less about possession and more about expression, less about owning and more about being. It views the self not in terms of ownership, but as a process, a continuous act of ‘being’ in the world.

Fromm argues that the ‘being’ mode of existence leads to a more authentic and meaningful experience of selfhood. In the ‘being’ mode, our identity isn’t tied to our possessions or societal status, but it’s derived from our experiences, our relationships, and our own personal growth. This allows for a more authentic selfhood, unburdened by the superficiality of possessions and societal expectations. In essence, ‘being’ means living in the authenticity of our existence, acknowledging our innate human capabilities of love, reason, and productive work. It implies being fully present and engaged in each moment, connecting deeply with others, and living a life of purpose and meaning. This, Fromm suggests, is the pathway to achieving genuine happiness and fulfilment.

The ‘Having’ Mode of Existence and Its Impact on Selfhood

In Fromm’s analysis of human existence, the ‘having’ mode emerges as a dominant paradigm that pervades our society and individual lives. This mode of existence is defined by possession, accumulation, and consumption. It’s a mode where self-worth is evaluated by the material goods one possesses, the titles one holds, and the accolades one has received. It’s a mode where life becomes a quest for more, each new acquisition promising happiness and fulfillment, yet invariably falling short.

The ‘having’ mode creates a worldview centered around materialism and consumerism. It prompts us to perceive the world, and indeed ourselves, as objects to be owned and controlled. In this mode, we are driven by the need to accumulate and possess – be it wealth, knowledge, or even relationships. Our focus is on attaining, owning, and preserving, and life becomes a competitive race to amass more than our peers. Fromm asserts that this mode of existence objectifies the world and the self, leading to a sense of disconnection and alienation.

The societal and personal implications of the ‘having’ mode are profound and pervasive. On a societal level, this mode fuels economic systems built around continuous growth and consumption, often at the cost of environmental sustainability and social equality. It fosters societies where individuals are valued for what they have rather than who they are, leading to social stratification, competition, and disparity.

On a personal level, the ‘having’ mode fosters a sense of dissatisfaction and insecurity. The pursuit of ‘having’ more inevitably leads to a perpetual state of wanting, as each new acquisition loses its charm and gives way to the desire for the next. It breeds discontent and anxiety, as our self-worth becomes tied to the transient and unpredictable nature of external possessions. This mode also leads to isolation, as our obsession with accumulation can overshadow the importance of genuine relationships and shared experiences.

In the ‘having’ mode, our identities become closely tied to our possessions and acquisitions. We start to define ourselves not by our inherent qualities, experiences, or relationships, but by what we own and what we can display to the world. In this process, we may lose touch with our authentic selves, suppressing or ignoring the aspects of our identity that don’t contribute to our ‘having.’

Furthermore, the ‘having’ mode encourages us to adopt societal standards and norms to attain more, often at the expense of our individuality. We may find ourselves conforming to societal expectations, chasing goals that aren’t truly ours, and suppressing our genuine needs and desires. This constant pursuit of external validation inhibits our ability to connect with our true selves and live authentically.

Moreover, the ‘having’ mode tends to foster a sense of separateness and disconnection. By objectifying the world and ourselves, we lose the sense of interconnection and interdependence that is crucial for our sense of self and our place in the world. In contrast, the ‘being’ mode of existence, which is rooted in connection, experience, and presence, allows for a more authentic and fulfilling experience of selfhood.

The ‘having’ mode of existence, as Erich Fromm posits, can be likened to an addiction, where the insatiable desire for more operates much like the cravings that characterize substance dependency. Just as an addict seeks escape in drugs or alcohol, individuals entrenched in the ‘having’ mode seek temporary respite from inner emptiness or discontent through the acquisition of external objects or status.

Fromm suggests that the ‘having’ mode of existence is fueled by a deep-seated anxiety that stems from feelings of inadequacy, emptiness, and disconnection. The act of acquiring and possessing, therefore, serves as a coping mechanism, a way to temporarily allay these anxieties. Every new acquisition provides a fleeting sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, momentarily filling the existential void.

But much like any addiction, the ‘high’ of the new possession is temporary. The relief and happiness garnered from the latest acquisition quickly dissipate, leaving behind the same gnawing void, the same inner emptiness. As the pleasure derived from the new possession wanes, the need for the next fix – the next acquisition – arises. Thus begins a perpetual cycle of desire and fulfillment, a ceaseless quest for the next high, akin to the relentless cycle of craving and relief experienced in addiction.

This constant chase for more provides an escape, a distraction from the task of facing and understanding oneself. It’s easier to lose oneself in the race for more than to pause and confront the discomfort of one’s inner world. The ‘having’ mode thus serves as an effective, albeit unhealthy, strategy to evade self-confrontation and self-understanding.

In this sense, the ‘having’ mode provides a temporary refuge from the daunting task of being one’s authentic self. It offers a diversion, a way to avoid the challenging, often uncomfortable process of self-exploration and personal growth. It allows us to construct an external identity based on our possessions, saving us from the demanding task of building an internal identity based on self-knowledge, personal values, and authentic experiences.

The ‘Being’ Mode of Existence and Its Influence on Selfhood

The ‘being’ mode of existence, as described by Erich Fromm, is a state where one is focused more on experiencing, expressing, and relating, rather than possessing and accumulating. It’s a mode of existence characterized by presence, authenticity, and active participation in life. In the ‘being’ mode, we experience the world and ourselves not as objects to be owned, but as dynamic entities to be engaged with.

In the ‘being’ mode, life isn’t a quest for more, but a journey of discovery and growth. This mode doesn’t measure success in terms of possessions or accolades, but in terms of personal development, fulfilling relationships, and meaningful contributions. It encourages us to focus on the here and now, to be fully present in each moment, and to engage with the world and others in a genuine, meaningful way.

The ‘being’ mode offers a radically different approach to selfhood than the ‘having’ mode. In the ‘being’ mode, one’s identity isn’t tied to possessions or societal status. Instead, it emerges from one’s experiences, relationships, and personal growth. This allows for an authentic selfhood, unburdened by the pressures of conformity and accumulation.

The ‘being’ mode encourages us to value our unique experiences, emotions, and perspectives, fostering a sense of individuality. It promotes self-expression and creativity, encouraging us to express our true selves in our interactions with the world. By focusing on our inherent qualities and experiences, the ‘being’ mode helps us build an internal identity that reflects our true selves, rather than a constructed identity based on external possessions or societal expectations.

Furthermore, the ‘being’ mode fosters a sense of interconnectedness, reminding us that we are not isolated entities, but part of a greater whole. This sense of connection, of belonging, provides a deep and lasting fulfillment, far surpassing the temporary gratification offered by possessions.

The Role of Unhelpful Narratives in Sustaining the ‘Having’ Mode

From childhood, we are exposed to a variety of narratives about who we are supposed to be and what constitutes a ‘successful’ life. These narratives, which are often imbued with societal norms and expectations, can shape our perceptions of self-worth and success. If we internalize these narratives uncritically, we may start to believe that we are only as good as what we possess, that our worth is determined by our ability to attain and accumulate.

These internalized narratives can foster a pervasive sense of inadequacy, a feeling of not being enough just as we are. This feeling can manifest as a deep-seated shame, a belief that we are inherently flawed or lacking. This shame can be debilitating, eroding our self-esteem and preventing us from recognizing and expressing our inherent worth.

In an attempt to compensate for this sense of inadequacy, we may turn to the ‘having’ mode of existence. We may start to seek validation and fulfillment in external possessions, believing that if we can just have more, achieve more, we will finally be enough. The ‘having’ mode thus becomes a way of coping with our feelings of shame and inadequacy, a way to prove to ourselves and others that we are indeed worthy.

But the ‘having’ mode can never truly compensate for a lack of self-acceptance. No matter how much we have or achieve, it will never be enough if we don’t feel enough in ourselves. The ‘having’ mode can only provide a temporary distraction, a fleeting sense of accomplishment that soon gives way to the same feelings of shame and inadequacy.

In the absence of self-acceptance, we may also experience a sense of isolation, a feeling of being fundamentally separate from others. This sense of isolation can deepen the existential void, reinforcing our feelings of inadequacy and our reliance on the ‘having’ mode.

In this way, unhelpful narratives about ourselves can create a vicious cycle, where feelings of shame and inadequacy fuel the ‘having’ mode, which in turn reinforces these feelings and deepens our existential void. Breaking free from this cycle requires challenging these unhelpful narratives, cultivating self-acceptance, and embracing the ‘being’ mode of existence. Only then can we truly be ourselves, free from shame and isolation, and find genuine fulfillment in our lives.

Many unhelpful narratives stem from societal expectations and beliefs that are ingrained in us from an early age. These narratives are typically generalized, often overlooking individual differences and unique life paths. They promote a limited and often unrealistic image of success and self-worth, leading to feelings of inadequacy when these expectations aren’t met. Some common examples include:

  1. “Success is defined by material wealth and professional achievement.” This narrative equates success solely with economic status and career progression. It overlooks other aspects of life such as personal development, relationships, and wellbeing, leading to the belief that one’s worth is tied to financial success and professional status.
  2. “You must always be productive.” This narrative pushes the idea that constant productivity and busyness are signs of value and worth. It discourages rest and self-care, leading to burnout and reinforcing the belief that you are only valuable when you are producing or achieving.
  3. “You must conform to societal standards and expectations.” This narrative encourages conformity to societal norms, whether it’s related to appearance, behavior, or life choices. It discourages individuality and self-expression, leading to the belief that one’s worth is dependent on the approval and acceptance of others.
  4. “You should always put others’ needs before your own.” This narrative promotes self-sacrifice and self-neglect, often leading to the belief that taking care of oneself is selfish or undeserving.
  5. “You should be perfect.” This narrative pushes the unrealistic expectation of perfection in all aspects of life. It reinforces the belief that mistakes or failures are unacceptable and that one’s worth is tied to perfection.
  6. “You are not enough as you are.” This overarching narrative combines elements from all the above, leading to a constant feeling of inadequacy, as if something is always missing or not good enough in oneself.
  7. “You are responsible for others’ happiness and well-being.” This narrative promotes an unrealistic sense of responsibility, suggesting that we are accountable for the emotions and life outcomes of those around us. It creates an enormous, often unbearable, burden of guilt and obligation, leading individuals to believe they have failed when others are unhappy or when things go wrong, even when these situations are outside their control. This narrative can also cause individuals to neglect their own needs and boundaries, as they are continuously prioritizing the needs and desires of others. In extreme cases, it can lead to codependency, where one’s self-worth is completely tied to their ability to care for, and be needed by, others.

These unhelpful narratives contribute to feelings of shame and inadequacy, fueling the ‘having’ mode of existence as a means of compensation. Recognizing and challenging these narratives is a critical step towards embracing the ‘being’ mode and cultivating authentic selfhood.

Overcoming Challenges in the Journey towards ‘Being’

The transition from ‘having’ to ‘being’ is far from easy. It involves unlearning deeply ingrained habits and narratives, facing uncomfortable truths about ourselves, and navigating a societal system that often rewards ‘having’ over ‘being.’ It is a journey riddled with obstacles and fears, but overcoming them is a critical part of this transformational process.

One of the most common obstacles in this journey is fear – fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of inadequacy, and fear of failure. The ‘having’ mode, despite its shortcomings, offers a familiar comfort. It’s a known entity, a clear yardstick against which we can measure our worth and success. The ‘being’ mode, on the other hand, is an uncharted territory. It offers no tangible benchmarks, no concrete measures of success. This ambiguity can be unsettling, provoking anxiety and fear.

Fear of rejection is another significant obstacle. The ‘being’ mode involves expressing our true selves, and this authenticity can leave us feeling vulnerable. The fear of being judged or rejected for who we truly are can deter us from embracing the ‘being’ mode.

Similarly, fear of inadequacy and failure can be significant roadblocks. In the ‘having’ mode, we can always strive for more, always pursue the next acquisition. But in the ‘being’ mode, we must confront the possibility that we are not enough, that we may fail in our endeavors.

Fromm offers several strategies to help us navigate these challenges. First and foremost, he advocates for self-awareness. By becoming aware of our fears and obstacles, we can better understand them and devise strategies to address them. This involves honest self-reflection, a willingness to face our fears and vulnerabilities.

Fromm also emphasizes the power of love and connection. By fostering meaningful relationships, we can create a support system that can help us navigate the challenges and fears that arise in our journey towards ‘being.’ These relationships can provide us with encouragement, perspective, and a sense of belonging, helping us feel less alone in our struggles.

Another key strategy is the practice of mindfulness. By focusing on the present moment, we can mitigate our fears of the unknown and our anxieties about the future. Mindfulness allows us to experience life as it is, rather than as we fear it might be.

Lastly, Fromm encourages us to challenge societal norms and expectations, to question the narratives we’ve internalized about success and self-worth. This involves critical thinking, courage, and a willingness to stand against societal pressures.

The transition from ‘having’ to ‘being’ is not an overnight process. It’s a journey that requires patience, persistence, and resilience. There will be setbacks and disappointments, moments of doubt and despair. But it’s important to remember that these are all part of the process.

Change takes time, and personal growth is often a non-linear journey. There may be times when we revert back to the ‘having’ mode, when our fears and obstacles seem insurmountable. But with each setback, we can learn, adapt, and grow stronger.

The ‘being’ mode is not a destination but a continuous process, a way of life. It involves a daily commitment to self-awareness, authenticity, and personal growth. It’s about learning to be comfortable with uncertainty, to embrace vulnerability, and to find fulfillment in the journey itself.

Clarifying Values: A Compass for the ‘Being’ Mode

Values are like a compass; they provide direction and purpose in our lives, guiding our decisions and actions. In the ‘being’ mode, values take on an even greater importance. They help define who we are beyond what we have, serving as an anchor of authenticity and integrity in a world that often prioritizes possessions and achievements.

Values are deeply held beliefs about what is important and worthwhile in life. They are principles that guide our behavior, decisions, and interactions. They are not rules imposed by society or expectations dictated by others. Rather, they are personal and intrinsic, reflecting our unique perspectives, experiences, and aspirations.

Identifying and clarifying your values is a process of introspection and reflection. It requires honest self-examination, an openness to explore your beliefs, feelings, and experiences.

One way to start this process is by considering what truly matters to you. Think about the times when you felt most fulfilled, content, or alive. What were you doing? Who were you with? What about those experiences felt meaningful?

You can also reflect on the qualities and behaviors you admire in others. What values do they embody? Do these align with what you consider important in life?

It’s equally essential to consider your reactions to challenging situations. How do you respond when faced with adversity or conflict? Your responses can offer insights into your core values.

It’s important to remember that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ values. Each person’s values are unique and can evolve over time. The aim here is not to judge or compare, but to gain a deeper understanding of what truly matters to you.

Once you’ve identified your values, you can use them as a guide in your journey towards the ‘being’ mode. Your values can help you make decisions that align with your true self, rather than societal expectations or external pressures. They can guide your actions, helping you live authentically and with integrity.

In the ‘being’ mode, values become more than mere guidelines; they become a way of life. They infuse meaning into our experiences, fostering a sense of purpose and fulfillment. By living according to our values, we can transcend the ‘having’ mode and embrace the ‘being’ mode, cultivating a life that is not just successful, but also meaningful and fulfilling.

Journaling can be a powerful tool for introspection and self-discovery. Here are some prompts that can help you clarify your values:

  1. List the three most meaningful moments in your life. What made these moments meaningful? What values were you expressing or fulfilling in these moments?
  2. Describe a time when you felt proud of a decision you made. What values were you honoring with this decision?
  3. List the qualities you admire most in others. How do these qualities reflect the values you deem important?
  4. Think about a time when you were faced with a difficult decision. What values did you consider in making your choice?
  5. What do you want your legacy to be? How do your values align with this vision?
  6. Imagine you are at your 100th birthday party. What would you want people to say about you and your life? What values are reflected in these statements?
  7. Write about a time when you felt conflicted or dissatisfied. Were your actions or decisions at odds with your values? How so?
  8. If you had all the time and resources in the world, what would you do? How does this relate to your values?
  9. Think about the people you spend most of your time with. Do their values align with yours? How does this affect your relationship with them?
  10. Reflect on your daily routine. How are your values reflected in how you spend your time?

Remember, these prompts are meant to guide your introspection. You don’t have to answer all of them at once, and your responses may evolve over time. The goal is to facilitate a deeper understanding of what truly matters to you, providing a foundation for your journey towards the ‘being’ mode.

Fostering Connection and Community: Nurturing the ‘Being’ Orientation

In the ‘being’ mode, connection and community play pivotal roles. As social beings, we thrive on the relationships and bonds we form with others. Connection and community provide a sense of belonging, enhance our emotional well-being, and enrich our lives with shared experiences and mutual support. They serve as an antidote to the isolation often perpetuated by the ‘having’ mode, grounding us in the collective human experience.

Authentic connections are characterized by mutual respect, understanding, and empathy. These relationships provide a safe space for us to be ourselves, free from judgment or expectation. To build authentic connections, we must be willing to be vulnerable, to share our thoughts and feelings honestly, and to listen with an open heart and mind. This involves showing up as our true selves, expressing our values, and honoring the values of others.

Mutual support is also a vital component of authentic connections. This doesn’t mean simply providing help when needed, but also celebrating each other’s successes, providing comfort in times of distress, and standing together in the face of adversity.

Community goes beyond individual relationships; it refers to a collective sense of belonging and camaraderie. It’s about being part of something larger than ourselves, sharing common interests, goals, or values.

Cultivating community can be achieved in various ways. It could involve joining clubs or organizations related to your interests, volunteering for causes you believe in, or participating in local events. These activities not only foster a sense of community but also provide opportunities to express your values and contribute to something meaningful.

In fostering connection and community, we nurture the ‘being’ orientation. These relationships and experiences encourage us to live authentically, to express our values, and to engage fully in the present moment. They shift our focus from ‘having’ to ‘being,’ from individual achievement to collective well-being.

By embracing connection and community, we are not just enriching our own lives but also contributing to a more compassionate, connected, and authentic society. This is the essence of the ‘being’ mode – a life lived not in pursuit of possessions, but in the pursuit of meaningful relationships, shared experiences, and a sense of belonging. This is how we nurture our authentic selves and find true fulfillment.

Fromm’s Critique of Modern Consumer Culture: The Failure to Meet Fundamental Human Needs

In his works, Erich Fromm critically examines the effects of modern consumer culture on our lives and our ability to truly ‘be.’ His critique is rooted in the understanding that the pervasive consumer culture, characterized by relentless pursuit of possessions and achievements, often fails to meet our fundamental human needs. This failure, Fromm believes, leads to a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction, distancing us from our true selves and undermining our ability to connect, grow, and find fulfillment.

Fromm argues we have a core human need for relatedness, rootedness, transcendence, identity, and a frame of orientation.

Relatedness refers to our inherent need to connect with others, to feel a sense of belonging and mutual understanding. However, consumer culture, with its emphasis on individualism and competition, often erodes the quality of our relationships. It commodifies relationships, making them transactional rather than meaningful, based on what others can offer us rather than on mutual respect and understanding. This lack of authentic connection leaves us feeling isolated and unfulfilled, undermining our ‘being’ orientation.

Rootedness is the need to feel grounded and at home in the world. But the transient nature of consumer culture, with its focus on the new, the better, and the more, often disconnects us from a sense of stability and groundedness. This can result in feelings of restlessness, uncertainty, and insecurity, hindering our ability to live fully in the present and connect meaningfully with the world around us.

Transcendence refers to our inherent desire to rise above our individual selves and contribute to something larger. However, consumer culture’s emphasis on individualism and personal gain often leaves little room for altruism and service. This lack of transcendence leads to a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness, undermining our ability to find purpose and fulfillment in our lives.

A strong sense of identity is essential for our well-being and self-worth. However, consumer culture often dictates our identity based on what we have rather than who we are. This external validation undermines our internal sense of self, leading to feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. It fosters a ‘having’ orientation, where our worth is measured by our possessions and achievements, distancing us from our true selves and our ‘being’ orientation.

Our frame of orientation refers to our understanding of the world and our place in it. But consumer culture often provides a skewed perspective, framing success and worth in terms of possessions and achievements. This narrow viewpoint limits our understanding of the world and ourselves, fostering a sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness.Fromm’s Vision of a “Sane Society” and His Critique of Capitalism

Erich Fromm’s concept of a “sane society” encapsulates his vision for a world in which individuals and communities flourish, free from the fetters of an economic system that prioritizes material gain over human wellbeing. He contrasts this with what he views as the “insane” society of his time, characterized by unchecked capitalism, rampant consumerism, and a culture that values ‘having’ over ‘being.’

Fromm’s critique of capitalism is a centerpiece in his work, as he sees it as a fundamental driver of the ‘having’ mode of existence. He views capitalism as an economic system that breeds alienation, fosters competition at the expense of community, and reduces individuals to mere cogs in the economic machine. He argues that under capitalism, human values and relationships are commodified, reducing the richness of human life to transactional exchanges.

Fromm posits that capitalism, with its emphasis on endless growth, profit maximization, and individualistic competition, encourages a culture that equates self-worth with economic success. He believes that this fosters an unhealthy focus on material gain and consumerism, perpetuating the ‘having’ mode of existence, where individuals are valued for what they own rather than who they are.

According to Fromm, capitalism does not adequately cater to the fundamental human needs for relatedness, rootedness, a sense of identity, a frame of orientation, and the need for transcendence. Instead, it promotes a lifestyle centered around acquisition and consumption, fostering feelings of insecurity, isolation, and dissatisfaction.

Fromm believes that this focus on ‘having’ inhibits human potential. He argues that people are prevented from realizing their full capabilities and from developing into well-rounded, fulfilled individuals. This is because, in a society that values possession over personhood, individuals are discouraged from engaging in self-exploration and personal growth.

In contrast to the alienating forces of capitalism, Fromm envisions a “sane society” as one that fosters the ‘being’ mode of existence. This is a society that promotes cooperation and community over competition, that values individuals for who they are rather than what they own, and that encourages personal growth and self-realization.

In a sane society, economic systems and structures would exist to serve human needs, rather than humans existing to serve the economy. Fromm advocates for a socio-economic system that promotes human welfare, social justice, and equality. He sees the potential for economic systems to be designed and operated in ways that encourage the ‘being’ mode of existence and meet fundamental human needs.

Fromm suggests that the transformation from an ‘insane’ capitalist society to a ‘sane’ society requires a fundamental shift in societal values and structures. This includes a reevaluation of our economic systems, a move away from consumer culture, and a shift towards a society that prioritizes human well-being, community, and cooperation.


In conclusion, it’s clear that the journey towards ‘being’ is a transformative one. It requires you to confront deeply ingrained beliefs, unlearn the norms of a ‘having’-oriented culture, and cultivate a new understanding of what it means to truly ‘be’ yourself.

Remember that change starts with you. The ‘having’ mode of existence, while deeply embedded in our societal structures, can be counteracted by the way you choose to live your life. Erich Fromm’s philosophy serves as a guidepost, encouraging you to value authenticity over acquisition, connection over competition, and self-realization over societal validation.

Ask yourself: How can I live more authentically? How can I shift my focus from what I have to who I am? What steps can I take to foster connection, community, and contribute to something larger than myself? You’ll find that these questions lead you down a path to a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you.

Recognize that this journey towards ‘being’ is not a quick or easy one. It takes time, patience, and self-compassion. It is a continuous process of self-reflection, growth, and transformation. But the rewards are immeasurable: a stronger sense of self, deeper connections, and a life of purpose and fulfillment.

In a world that often prioritizes ‘having,’ choosing to embrace ‘being’ is a radical act. It is an affirmation of your true self, a declaration of your values, and a contribution to the creation of a more compassionate, authentic society. As you embark on this journey, remember that you are not alone. There is a community of individuals on this path, each working to embody ‘being’ in their own way, each contributing to the creation of a ‘sane’ society.

In the end, the journey towards ‘being’ is more than just a philosophical exploration. It’s a journey towards a more authentic, fulfilled, and connected life. It’s about being yourself, in the truest sense of the word. And there is no greater journey than that.

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1 Comment

  1. Jay A. J. Shuck

    Good read. This echoes the Christian concepts of simplicity and intrinsic value.


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