Owning more things and accruing more wealth may provide only a partial fix; it does not ensure long-term happiness. Research shows that when people fulfil their lives around extrinsic goals such as product acquisition, they report greater unhappiness in relationships, poorer moods and more psychological problems.
More Materialism, More Misery
“Almost everyone believes that getting what you want makes you feel good about yourself and your life”, Kasser says. “Common wisdom, as well as many psychological theories, says that if we reach our goals, our self-esteem and satisfaction with life should consequently rise…” However “people who are wildly successful in their attempts to attain money and status often remain unfulfilled once they have reached their goal”.
In recent years, researchers have reported an ever-growing list of downsides to getting and spending – damage to relationship and self-esteem, a heightened risk of depression and anxiety, less time for what the research indicates truly makes people happy (like family, friendship and engaging work), and maybe, even headaches.
“Consumer culture is continually bombarding us with the message that materialism will make us happy,” said Kasser, who has led some of the recent work. But this, he says, is far from true.
People, whose values centre on the accumulation of wealth or material possessions, face a greater risk of unhappiness, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and problems with intimacy – regardless of age, income, or culture. Materialistic values actually undermine our well-being, as they perpetuate feelings of insecurity, weaken the ties that bind us, and make us feel less free.