Research has associated consumerism and materialism with low self-esteem and the feelings of loneliness and unhappiness.
A series of studies published in the journal, Motivation and Emotion showed that as people become more materialistic, their sense of wellbeing and purpose is reduced and if they become less materialistic, it rises.
While materialism is good for the economy, fuelling growth, it can have a negative impact on a personal level, leading to anxiety and depression. Consumerism can also damage relationships, communities, and the environment.
In many ways, this is a logical correlation. Consumerism and materialism often involve comparisons with others and, if it is perceived that others are doing better, resulting feelings of deficiency are understandable. With the immense amount of advertising we are bombarded with on a daily basis, it is unsurprising that there are many things we feel we want and need.
Advertising plays on our fears and the need for social acceptance. When we are told a product will give us youthful skin, make us more sexually successful or impress others, it is little wonder that we take away feelings of being less than good enough as we are, hence the resulting low self-esteem.
In addition, focusing exclusively on earning enough money to buy more can take time away from the things that can nurture happiness including relationships, social activities, hobbies, charity and community work and the environment.
The Psychology Of Materialism, And Why It’s Making You Unhappy
That’s our entire economic system: buy things. Everybody buy. It doesn’t matter what you buy. Just buy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Just buy. Our entire civilization now rests on the assumption that, no matter what else happens, we will all continue to buy lots and lots of things. Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy. And then buy a little more. Don’t create, or produce, or discover — just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back — just buy. Buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have… Buy like you breathe, only more frequently.
More money, more problems? It might just be true. Americans today, compared to 55 years ago, own twice as many cars and eat out twice as much per person, but we don’t seem to be any happier because of it. Rather than rising levels of well-being, we’ve seen mounting credit card debt and increasing numbers of self-storage facilities to house the things we compulsively buy.
The holidays in particular have become a time when consumer culture comes out in full force. Black Friday, the annual post-Thanksgiving discount shopping spree, results each year in multiple deaths and injuries of consumers trampled by crowds in stores and shopping malls.
To some extent, most of us participate in consumer culture and value material possessions, and that’s perfectly fine. But in excess, materialism can take a toll on your well-being, relationships and quality of life. Here are six things you should know about the psychology of consumption — and strategies to find freedom from materialism.
1. Consumer culture may be harming individual well-being.
Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology, Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.
The materialistic values that consumer cultures support may be to blame. Those who pursue wealth and material possessions tend to be less satisfied and experience fewer positive emotions each day. On the other hand, research has found that life satisfaction — surprise, surprise — is correlated with having less materialistic values.
2. Materialist values are linked to Type-A behavior.
Are you highly ambitious and competitive? It could mean you’re also more materialistic. Australian research from the 1990s found materialist values and a possessions-based definition of success share common characteristics with type-A behaviors, including competitiveness and aggression. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology reiterated the finding that the desire to accumulate wealth and possessions is related to Type-A qualities.
3. Money really can’t buy you happiness.
The Beatles wisely noted that money can’t buy love, and we’d do well to remember that money can’t buy happiness, either. Research has shown that there is no direct correlation between income and happiness. Once our basic needs are met, wealth makes very little difference to one’s overall well-being and happiness. And in fact, extremely wealthy people actually suffer from higher rates of depression.
4. Materialism could ruin your relationships.
Can money buy you love? Not so much, and according to a study published in the Journal Of Couple & Marriage Therapy, materialism is actually correlated with unhappiness in marriages. Researchers studied more than 1,700 couples to find that those in which both partners had high levels of materialism exhibited lower marital quality than couples with lower materialism scores. Previous studies have found that students with higher extrinsic, materialistic values tend to have lower-quality relationships, and to feel less connected to others.
Materialistic people also typically have less pro-social and empathetic qualities, both towards others and towards the environment.
5. Consumer cultures may breed narcissistic personalities.
Some psychologists have suggested that consumer cultures may contribute to the development of narcissistic personalities and behaviors, “by focusing individuals on the glorification of consumption,” psychologist Tim Kasser wrote in The High Price Of Materialism. Narcissists generally act with arrogance and are deeply concerned with issues of personal adequacy, seeking power and prestige to cover for feelings of inner emptiness and low-self worth
6. Consumerism is fueled by insecurity — and remedied by mindfulness.
Research suggests that materialistic values are fueled by insecurity. A 2002 study published in the journal Psychology and Marketing found that those who chronically doubt themselves and their own self-worth tend to be more materialistic.
Consumerism — which has been called a “modern religion” — tends to capitalize on this insecurity and use it to sell products.
“In a practical sense, consumerism is a belief system and culture that promotes consuming as the path to self- and social improvement,” Stephanie Kaza, University of Vermont Environment Professor and Buddhism practitioner, wrote in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. “As a dominant cultural force, consumerism offers products to address every dissatisfaction.”
Effects of Materialism
To evaluate the effects of materialism, let’s first examine what materialism promotes. In the most austere sense, materialism states that all that exists is physical matter — negating thought, feeling, human will, and faith. In a more subtle course, materialism promotes the idolatry of possessions or material wealth. Possessions are believed to fill all human need and characterize quality of life. For a godless society, the philosophy of materialism may seem plausible.
However, if societies have any spiritual belief, whether it is in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Wakantanka (Native American for Great Spirit), or Allah, materialism does not stand. Or does it? Perhaps this will sound familiar.
Materialism’s goals and their end results:
– Acquisition of material goods (lust, envy, false comfort, idolatry)
– Self interests, (selfishness, no compassion, greed, denies eternal soul and the Creator)
– Accumulation, equivalent to success (no morals, no sense of right or wrong, preoccupation to money, jealousy, thievery)
– Voiding all faith and spiritual deity (hopelessness, unrepentant sin, despair, eternal death)
The opposite of theism (belief in God) is atheism, stating there is no god. Therefore, we can look at materialism as atheistic or antichrist in nature — materialism operated rampantly throughout the world, regardless of religious foundations. Increasingly, societies have become secular and humanistic in nature. Humanism denies any spiritual nature of mankind. Man has set himself and his material desires (his idols) above all else, including God.
The effects of materialism are similar to brainwashing. They have undermined any personal responsibility by claiming that thought is dictated biologically and by environment. A materialistic society can be especially effective if it is a governmental tenet as well. For instance, some of the oppressed countries under the strictest rule of Communism (spawned from materialism) mandated its citizens to disband all formal and public forms of Spiritual worship. Although Russia allowed certain church traditions, worship was highly discouraged. China went so far as to say that teaching children of God and Spirituality was child abuse. Materialism and Spirituality are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, like good and evil.