An obsession with worldly goods is making us all more anxious and depressed—and TV and social media aren’t helping. In a release from the American Psychological Association, “materialism expert” Tim Kasser says that people who made money and possessions a priority generally experienced more unpleasant emotions, a greater incidence of physical ailments, such as headaches and stomachaches, and less satisfaction with their lives. “Specifically, materialistic values are associated with living one’s life in ways that do a relatively poor job of satisfying psychological needs to feel free, competent, and connected to other people,” Kasser, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., says. “When people do not have their needs well-satisfied, they report lower levels of wellbeing and happiness, as well as more distress.”
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PSYCHOLOGY OF STUFF
With advertisers trying to catch our eye at every turn, today’s consumer society further undermines our sense of adequacy, Kasser adds. Exposure to messages that emphasize the importance of “stuff,” whether through friends and family or media channels, leads people to have more materialistic values. People are also more materialistic when they feel insecure, threatened, or rejected, he says.
TV binge-watchers are particularly at risk. “The research shows that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic their values are,” Kasser says. That’s probably because both the shows and the ads send messages suggesting that happy, successful people are wealthy, have nice things, and are beautiful and popular.”
He also points to a study of American and Arab youth that found a relationship between social-media use and materialism. “That makes sense, since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how the social media companies make a profit,” he says.
For people who are religious, the link between materialism and wellbeing is even more overt, especially during the holidays. “This is probably because there is a conflict between materialistic and religious pursuits,” Kasser says. “Trying to pursue materialistic and spiritual goals causes people conflict and stress, which in turn lowers their wellbeing.”
In a study co-authored with psychologist Ken Sheldon, Kasser found that the more people focused the holidays around spending and receiving, the less they were able to hone their spiritual aims.
“We also found that people reported ‘merrier’ Christmases when spirituality was a large part of their holiday, but reported lower Christmas wellbeing to the extent that the holiday was dominated by materialistic aspects,” he says.
Time to declare a Christmas truce?