Our unlimited wants, unending needs, uncontrolled spending, unnecessary buys and unbridled acquisitions have all resulted in one thing – an unhappy life, social scientists warn. These findings emerge at a time when the consumer culture has reached a fever pitch, comments Myers, also the author of the 2000 book, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty. 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.
In the 2002 book, The High Price of Materialism, American psychologist Tim Kasser of Knox College, who has reviewed a vast array of research studies across the world, wrote: “Existing scientific research on the value of materialism yields clear and consistent findings. People who are highly focused on materialistic values have lower personal well-being and psychological health than those who believe that materialistic pursuits are relatively unimportant. These relationships have been documented in samples of people ranging from the wealthy to the poor, from teenagers to the elderly, and from Australians to South Koreans.”
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.