The Choice Between Being and Having: Unraveling the Paradigm of Existence‍

In today’s society, the desire for material possessions, status, and influence greatly influences people’s actions. This has resulted in a consumeristic culture, where individuals link their value and sense of self to their possessions. Psychologist Erich Fromm introduced two ways of living that illustrate this concept: the ‘having’ mode and the ‘being’ mode. According to Fromm, ‘having’ refers to owning material possessions, while ‘being’ emphasizes living life to the fullest and fostering meaningful connections.

erich fromm and his book to have or to be

Unpacking the ‘Having’ and ‘Being’ Modes of Existence

The ‘Having’ Mode
The concept of “having” is centered around the acquisition, possession, and accumulation of material and immaterial goods. Those who live in this mode perceive life as a series of exchanges, with a focus on the potential gains or losses that may result from these transactions. Fromm posits that this mode of existence is shaped by the contemporary capitalist society, which encourages a relentless pursuit of consumption and the accumulation of wealth.

In this mode, interpersonal relationships are frequently regarded as objects to be possessed, with individuals being treated as mere acquisitions. This results in a lack of genuine connections, as people are more likely to interact based on what they can gain.

The ‘Being’ Mode
In contrast, the mode of “being” is characterized by a focus on living life, fostering meaningful connections, and engaging in productive activities. Fromm posits that this mode is distinguished by love, sharing, and active involvement in life. Those who operate in this mode derive fulfillment from their existence and connections with others, rather than from material possessions.

The ‘being’ mode promotes individuals to discover worth in their experiences and relationships. This can result in a more satisfying and contented life, without the constant desire to obtain and own.

The ‘having’ mode is seen as the root of consumerism, a phenomenon that is prevalent in our society. Its essence lies in the continuous desire for material possessions and services. This urge is often fueled by the advertising industry, which creates a perceived necessity for products that may not be truly necessary.

Consumerism as a Manifestation of the ‘Having’ Mode
Consumerism, as it is currently understood, may be regarded as a manifestation of the ‘having’ mode. It is a socio-economic phenomenon that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. The advertising industry plays a significant role in the perpetuation of this desire, frequently creating a perceived need for products that may not be genuinely necessary.

The Impact of Consumerism on Spirituality
In a society that is focused on consumption, spirituality can become intertwined with materialism. Brands exert a profound influence on an individual’s sense of self, often determining their desires and aspirations. Consequently, spirituality has become increasingly consumeristic, with brands and tangible possessions playing a pivotal role in attaining fulfillment. Furthermore, religion and spirituality have been commercialized, with religious symbols and rituals being utilized as advertising strategies. This perpetuates the consumerist mentality, resulting in a spiritual emptiness that individuals try to fill through consumption.

The influence of consumerism is pervasive, extending to the most intimate aspects of our lives. It affects our relationships with others, our sense of self, and even our spiritual beliefs. The relentless pursuit of material possessions can give rise to feelings of discontent, loneliness, and a pervasive sense of restlessness. As a consequence of the consumer-driven society, brands have exploited the formation of communities centered on their goods and services, thereby instigating a change in societal values where success is measured by material possessions.

The Effect of Consumerism on Discipleship
The practice of faith is also affected by a disposable mentality. Prioritizing possessions over personal and collective discipleship can impede spiritual development, as individuals become more preoccupied with material goods rather than spiritual advancement. The pursuit of consumption can result in unethical behaviors, such as exploiting labor and the environment, which goes against the values of many religious beliefs that promote empathy, fairness, and reverence for all living beings.

In his response to consumerism, Fromm posits that a shift from a mindset of “having” to one of “being” is pivotal in counteracting the deleterious effects of consumerism. This entails reframing our relationship with material possessions, with greater emphasis placed on experiences and relationships.

In order to support this transition, Fromm proposes the development of a spiritual practice focused on the concept of “being” rather than ‘having’. This type of spirituality highlights the intrinsic worth of every person and the interdependence of all living beings.

Being as Interiority and Having as Exteriority
The concepts of “having” and “being” offer a perspective for comprehending our connection with material possessions and our attitude towards living. Although consumer culture is heavily oriented towards the acquisition of material goods, adopting a mode of being rather than having can result in a more satisfying and purposeful existence.

Being and Having can also be interpreted dualistically as Inside and Outside, where the inner world matches Being while the outer world matches Having. Where one prevails, the other succumbs, and balancing these two opposing elements is a far from easy task.

The Role of Community
In the transition from a focus on material possessions to a more intrinsic sense of self, community plays a pivotal role. Genuine communities foster connections based on mutual respect, affection, and shared principles. Such communities offer an alternative perspective to that of consumerist society, encouraging a way of life that prioritizes experiences and relationships over material possessions.

The shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle necessitates a complete reconsideration of our values and priorities. It demands the development of a spiritual mindset that prioritizes relationships and shared experiences over material possessions. Additionally, it requires the formation of authentic communities that can challenge the dominant consumerist mindset.

Ultimately, the choice between “having” and “being” represents a fundamental dichotomy in the approach to life. This decision carries significant implications for our own well-being, our relationships with others, and the broader state of our world.

After you have understood the difference between being and having, why not test your personality to learn more about your predisposition toward one or the other?




Read the sentences below and select the ones you agree with and that you think make the most sense.

Count the number of boxes checked and read the corresponding profile.
0: You are not materialist and consumerist at all
1-2: You are hardly materialist and consumerist
3-4: You are quite materialist and consumerist
5-6: You are extremely materialist and consumerist



Read the sentences below and select the ones you agree with and that you think make the most sense.

Count the number of boxes checked and read the corresponding profile.
0: You are not superficial at all
1-2: You are frivolous from time to time
3-4: You tend to be superficial
5-6: You are very frivolous and superficial