Less materialism means more psychological well-being

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Studies confirm lower rates of materialism go with higher well-being. And a new experiment showed that actively lowering adolescents’ materialistic values raises their self-esteem.

“Living in a consumer society, we get bombarded with messages from our government, from advertisers, from all kinds of sources, which suggest to us that materialism will lead us to a happier life,” said Tim Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College.

“What we’ve seen now for 20 years in the research is that’s not the case,” he said.

Materialism refers to the belief that it’s very important to acquire a lot of money and possessions.

Kasser and his colleagues built on past research by measuring rates of materialism and well-being at different times to see how they change. They saw that as materialism changed for individuals, well-being changed in the opposite direction, even over periods as long as 12 years.

“Results supported the hypothesis that people’s well-being improves as they place relatively less importance on materialistic goals…whereas orienting toward materialistic goals relatively more is associated with decreases in well-being over time,” Kasser et. al. wrote of their latest findings.

In another large contribution, the researchers set up an intervention to actively lower adolescents’ rates of materialism.

“Does being happier cause people to be less materialistic? Or does less materialism lead people to be happier?” Kasser asked. There’s no way to know for sure without an experiment.

They randomly assigned kids along with parents to a control group and to a group that got the intervention. The adolescents in the latter group went to three sessions designed by Share Save Spend LLC, a financial literacy and education group. Discussions about consumer culture, how to spend wisely and how to differentiate between “needs and wants” were all a part of sessions and participants were given homework as well.

“We found that, actually, you can decrease materialism and that the effect on well-being was still there months later,” Kasser said. “For the children who started the study high in materialism and who got the intervention, their self-esteem went up over time. For the children who started the study high in materialism and didn’t get the intervention, their self-esteem went down over time.”

The study, “Changes in materialism, changes in psychological well-being: Evidence from three longitudinal studies and an intervention experiment,” was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.

Featured Image: Shoppers on Friar Street in Worcester, England. Credit: Bob Embleton, Geograph.

2 comments

  • Very interesting article. We need more reminders in our lives to help us recognize that it is our journey to understand that internal self – awareness brings happiness – not external (materialism) acquisitions.

    Keep them coming.

  • good choice and topic for discussion with my students