When “living to have” overtakes “having to live”, we suffer

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living to have

Kenny had only used his two phones for 3 months when the phone company released a ‘latest’ version. Apart from colour and shape, the ‘latest’ version has no real internal difference from the two Kenny already has. Kenny does not need the ‘latest’ phone for any new function that cannot be done with his three-month-old phones. Yet, he desperately desires the latest trending phone in order to feel trendy or better than others. So, Kenny conditioned himself for living to have trending commodities, instead of relating with commodities as relevant means to his life’s purpose.

On the other hand, Amanda observed the scourge of HIV/Aids in her society and dedicated herself to tackling it. She studied and designed a software for enlightening people about the disease. Needing to reach out for the social enlightenment, she bought powerful cameras, laptops, projectors and other media gadgets. She continued sponsoring the project from her savings until other people and firms supported her project. So, the more partnership/sponsorship she received, the more she improved herself for greater impact through research, outreach and medical equipment. Amanda prioritized her life’s purpose, and considered having associates and commodities as enabling companions or tools for her life’s purpose.

Recently, there is a trend for seeking fulfilment, pride or attention by having latest versions of several things in Nigeria. Many musicians, politicians, preachers, entrepreneurs and individuals show-off latest cars, gadgets, wears, mansions, vacations, credentials, lifestyle, trophy-spouse and children. Sometimes, we obtain these ‘human and material acquisitions’ without really relating with them for their self-actualization. Instead, the urge and competition to get them become too tense that we care less about their purposes or potentials. So, we flaunt these ‘acquisitions’ as evidence of our happiness or success, instead of enabling tools or companions for fulfilling our life’s purpose.

Humans and the purpose of life

Humans naturally possess different levels of physical, mental, psychological and spiritual energies for sustaining themselves in their environment. But apart from the ever-fervent instinct for survival, they also seek to make meaning out of life. They constantly seek the higher purposes for living beyond existing, eating, sleeping and mating like lower animals. Finding this purpose for living brings internal satisfaction and gives meaning to people’s experiences and sacrifices.

Ways of seeking purpose of life

Due to their social influences, some people seek their life’s purpose in amassing material possessions, family, spouse, children and testimonials. Others seek their lives’ purpose by contributing to improving human life with whatever they have through production, administration or security. The two different avenues for seeking life’s purpose can be distinguished as “living to have” and “having to live”. Living to have is channelling one’s life and energies to gathering material possessions, while having to live is dedicating one’s potentials and possessions to positively impacting one’s chosen aspects of the society. Several disagreements and confusions rise in prescribing the better means to purpose for a successful individual.

  • Living to have: it may seem that living to have material possessions provides more guarantee for the individual’s happiness.
    • Human beings need material possessions to survive and to live a comfortable life.
    • Focusing on living to have enables people to provide for their families and loved ones.
    • No human being can solve all the problems in the world. So, focusing on solving problems before gathering material possession for comfort may lead to poverty.
    • Also, when you are living to have, you obtain material possessions for charity, if you want. When you succeed, people regularly approach you for help, even if you drive them away.
    • Then you get so much social recognition, awards, references and links.

On the contrary,

  • Having to live: humans are social animals who find their self-actualization by fully developing and utilizing their potentials in the society.[1] Because of their rational nature, humans are the main agents of growth and harmony in the world. By interacting with other humans, animals and objects, humans improve and direct them to their right-use (fulfilment) in the society. But like footballers playing specific roles in a team, each human gets fulfilment by fulfilling specific social roles before death. Finding their specific roles for social impact according to their inner yearnings and talents gives meaning, focus and fulfilment to their lives. And by concentrating on fulfilling their social roles, they get assistance and reward from other people’s social roles.

Getting possessions as enablement for living out one’s social roles provides a nobler and more enduring happiness.

  • Their social efforts and impacts provide inner fulfilment of being relevant to the society.
    • By having to live, they make their society safer for themselves and their loved ones.
    • They influence their family, relatives and friends to find fulfilling purpose by contributing in specific roles to improving their society.
    • As more people become productive in an improved society, the society becomes richer.
    • They do not despise luxury, but relate to them as necessary refreshment to strengthen and enable them for better impact. Thus, they ensure proper utility of possessions.
    • Focusing on what you need to live full purposeful life removes the modern-day pressures and materialistic distractions. Hence, you desire things because you need them, not because some marketers or people hype/advertise them to manipulate your choices.

Why is the ‘living to have’ mentality still prevalent?

  • Hunger and desperation from disorganized social structures: ‘living-to-have’ mentality prevails in unjust societies where people struggle for basic necessities like food, shelter, education, jobs and mobility. In such desperate situations, people view these basic necessities as life-achievements for surviving and bragging to other less fortunate people. Because of this consistent lack, people focus on amassing basics for individual survival, instead of building productive and sustainable societies.
  • Distorted social education for individualism and underrating social purpose: in unjust societies, education is distorted to spread individualism. Individualism takes away the emotional cohesion in a society and makes people easily vulnerable to greedy political manipulations. When people are conditioned for individualism, it becomes easy to use one person against others by enticing him with possessions. But when people are educated for social responsibility, they see themselves as parts of an emotionally-bonded society.
  • Urge to trend: in unjust societies, people are recognized based on their accumulated wealth, despite its source. Recognizing people mainly by possession rather than contribution to improving the society increases the urge for living to have. Thus, people focus on accumulating possessions, even from crime, in order to be recognized, and not because they need it.
  • To brag for real or imagined competitors: the final purpose of living to have is to brag, torment or indirectly oppress other people. When individualism has taken root in people, they begin to view almost every other person as competitors. Then they seek material possessions as instruments for indirectly or directly oppressing their real or imagined competitors.

EFFECT of the ‘living to have’ mentality in a society

  • Emptiness of life: with living to have, man loses focus of his life’s purpose, impact and fulfilment in the society. Since his recognition comes from possessions, he borrows, cheats or lies to sustain the façade.
  • Indifference and unethical professions: being focused on living to have, people become more interested in what they gain from social interactions, instead of the positivity of their impacts.Doctors, lecturers, engineers, preachers and other workers become more interested in what they gain than their impacts in the society.
  • Constant fear of losing possession, security and fame: living to have makes people trust more in possessions that they view others with suspicion of coming to take their possession. Then, their lives become meaningless, suicidal, desperate or criminal when they begin losing possessions.
  • Depression and lack of human emotional bond: as a being of love, man receives love from humans, not property. Living to have distorts people to view others as commodities for increasing their pleasure, wealth and recognition, or liabilities to ignore. Since they are living to have, they think of controlling people with possessions instead of influencing people to their fulfilment. Then many people only approach them for money until they are unable to provide.

Living is relating with the world around us (humans, animals and things) for their improvement and right use in the society.

Cause of the prevalence of living to have mentality in Nigeria

Colonialists created Nigeria by violently constituting unconsented kingdoms and communities under a militarized federal government[2] for exploiting resources.[3] Using the colonially imposed constitution, Nigerian government seizes and exports various people’s mineral resources in exchange for foreign consumer products. Without militarily seizing these resources, the different people could have used them for producing most basic necessities. Now, instead of collaborating to use their resources for productivity, different Nigerians struggle to get foreign consumer products for survival. The colonially-introduced education system now trains people to admire and market foreign products and lifestyle, instead of collaborating for social growth.

Nigerians have not developed a social structure for building Nigeria. So, the main purpose of life in Nigeria now is survival, and the meaning of life is increased luxury. However, a new government will arise to conduct a national research and conference for people to use their resources for productivity. Then people will be valued, honoured and immortalized for their social contributions, instead of just accumulations.

Some people have little but they live fully, while some have so much but they live very little. Some pursue having cars, houses, jets and so on that they forget to adequately LIVE with their wives, children and society.

“Living is relating with the world around us (humans, animals and things) for their improvement and right use in the society.”


[1] Cf. Aristotle, Politiks, Bk 1

[2] Ogban Ogban-Iyan, Re-inventing Nigeria through Pre-colonial traditions, in Issues in contemporary political economy of Nigeria, (ed.) Hassan A. Saliu. (Ilorin, Sally & Associates, 1999). P77

[3] Oladele Fadeiye, European conquest and African resistance (Lagos: Murfat publications, 2011) pp.64-65