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The Problem of Materialism
According to Srikant Manchiraju and Zlatan Krizan, materialism can be defined as “the importance an individual attaches to worldly possessions” (Manchiraju and Krizan 90). A materialistic individual tends to believe that their earthly possessions and physical comfort are more important than their spiritual values. Certain belongings that a person with a materialistic viewpoint could put emphasis on include how nice their house is, what kind of car they drive, which type of cell phone they own, and how nice or expensive their clothes are. While these items might make a person happy at first, their happiness will not last for very long. Eventually, they will get bored and strive to have more. Overall, materialism is bad for a person’s emotional well-being. Materialism can negatively affect a person’s relationship, increase their chances of having depression and anxiety, and make a person less satisfied with themselves.
A materialistic viewpoint on life can have a negative effect on a person’s relationship. Money has been shown to play a key factor in marital conflicts. A recent study by Dr. Jason Carroll, a professor at Brigham Young University, shows that materialistic couples are unhappier and tend to have more arguments than other couples. In this study, researchers interviewed one thousand and seven hundred couples across the United States and asked each of them about their relationship. Researchers also asked these couples how attached they were to money and how they felt about having a lot of things. In one in five couples, both sides admitted to having a strong love for money. However, these couples also said that money was their main source of conflict. In addition to this, couples that admitted to having a strong love for money also scored ten to fifteen percent worse on “relationship stability” than those who did not care about money. Couples, where both spouses valued money the same, reported having the most problems in their relationship. On the other hand, couples who ranked low on the materialistic scale were reported to be better off. Finally, in terms of harm suffered because of materialism, couples fell in-between these two groups when one spouse was materialistic, but the other was not. Marital problems from materialism were at their worst when each spouse agreed that money possesses high value. According to Jason Carroll, this is because “materialistic people may spend more time looking for new things rather than nurturing their relationships” (Jaslow 1). They were less responsive to their partner and less focused on their relationship. Materialistic spouses often seek happiness in their possessions and not in people. This means that will put less time, effort, and energy into making sure their marriage is a success. Materialistic couples also reported having more financial issues than other couples because they are unsure about how to save their money.
Besides having a negative effect on a person’s relationship, a materialistic viewpoint can also increase a person’s chances of becoming depressed. In a recent study from Baylor University, which was published in Personality and Individual Differences, researchers saw that people who were more materialistic than others were more likely to be depressed. Researchers that conducted the study interviewed two hundred and forty-six undergraduate students who were majoring in marketing. Researchers measured each individual’s level of materialism, need satisfaction, and overall life satisfaction. The study revealed that “individuals who scored the most materialistic were also the least grateful, the least satisfied, and the most depressed” (Chen 1). This is because these individuals were more self-centered. They were more focused on physical rewards and helping themselves, instead of spending more time and energy on helping their peers. Individuals with a high score in materialism were also more concerned with what they do not have, such as new and expensive items, rather than focusing on what they already have, such as a family and a job. Materialists will never feel satisfied with their possessions because their current possessions will eventually become a baseline for new and improved items. Material possessions will never leave a person feeling truly happy. A new item will only make a person happy for a moment, but eventually, they will get bored with it and strive for more. A new possession will only keep a person happy until they start feeling covetous and depressed again.
In addition to being depressed, people with high materialistic values are also known to have elevated levels of anxiety. According to a recent study by Galen V. Bodenhausen, Monika A. Bauer, James E.B. Wilkie, and Jung K. Kim, those who place a higher value on wealth and status tend to be more depressed, anxious, and less sociable than those who do not place a high value on wealth and status. Galen V. Bodenhausen says they found that “irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mindset, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in wellbeing, including negative affect and social disengagement” (Bodenhausen 1). Bodenhausen, Bauer, Wilkie, and Kim conducted a series of experiments on university students. In two out of four of these experiments, the students were exposed to images of luxury good or words that put them into a materialistic mindset. After the experiments, students filled out questionnaires. The students that looked at the pictures of luxury goods such as jewelry, electronics, and cars were rated higher in anxiety and depression. The individuals who were rated higher in anxiety and depression also found themselves less interested in social events such as parties and more interested in solitary pursuits than their peers who scored lower. On the other hand, those who ranked high in materialism from exposure to words displayed more competitiveness and had little to no desire in dedicating their time to pro-social ventures such as working for a good cause.
Besides having a negative effect on a person’s relationship and increasing their chance of having depression and anxiety, a materialistic viewpoint can also make a person dissatisfied with their lives. Materialism has three key aspects. These aspects include centrality, happiness, and success. Centrality is when an individual views their earthly possessions as being the center of their life. Happiness is when an individual views their personal possessions as the main source for being satisfied with their lives. Success is when an individual uses their possessions as a marker for their success in life. Numerous studies have shown that materialists are generally less satisfied with their lives. People that score high in materialism are not only dissatisfied with their standards of living, but they are also dissatisfied with the amount of fun in their lives and their relationships with their friends. Materialism is also closely correlated to negative aspects of well-being, such as depression, loneliness, and low self-esteem. Multiple studies by Kasser and Ryan have found that people with higher materialistic value face fewer positive emotions, and greater levels of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse than their non-materialistic peers. According to Jo-Ann Tsang, Thomas P. Carpenter, James A. Roberts, Michael B. Frisch, and Robert D. Carlisle, “Gap theory posits that materialists have unrealistically high expectations for the satisfaction that material goods will bring them” (J.-A. Tsang et al. 63). Before buying an item, materialistic individuals will have higher expectation and anticipation than their non-materialistic counterparts. However, these new material possessions are never able to meet their high expectations or sustain their emotions. Overall, this will decrease the amount of a materialistic individual’s positive emotion. Because of this, a materialist will continue to make more purchases, which will just result in a greater level of dissatisfaction.
In conclusion, materialism has had negative effects on individuals in society. Materialism has been shown to ruin people’s relationships, increase a person’s depression and anxiety levels, and make a person less satisfied with their lives as a whole. Individuals with high materialistic values will turn to their possessions to find happiness, instead of turning to other people. As a result, they will end up ignoring their significant others and focusing more on other things. Materialism has also been known to heighten levels of anxiety and depression in people. Materialism will never leave a person feeling truly happy because eventually they will get bored with their newfound possessions and will find themselves wanting more. Individuals with a high materialistic outlook will also find themselves being less interested in social events. Last but not least, materialism can make a person less satisfied with their lives. Materialists always have high expectations and anticipation when making a purchase. However, the item will never live up to their expectations, so they will end up making more purchases never being satisfied.
- Chen, Danling. “‘Living in a Material World:” Materialistic People More Likely to Be Depressed?” The Humanology Project, 27 Apr. 2014, www.humanologyproject.org/depression-articles/2014/4/27/living-in-a-material-world-materialistic-people-more-likely-to-be-depressed.
- IANS. “Materialistic People Ridden with Anxiety.” The Express Tribune, The Express Tribune, 11 Apr. 2012, tribune.com.pk/story/362968/materialistic-people-ridden-with-anxiety/.
- Jaslow, Ryan. “Materialism Makes for Rocky Relationships, Study Suggests.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 14 Oct. 2011, www.cbsnews.com/news/materialism-makes-for-rocky-relationships-study-suggests/.
- Manchiraju, Srikant, and Zlatan Krizan. “What Is Materialism? Testing Two Dominant Perspectives on Materialism in the Marketing Literature.” Managing & Marketing, vol. 10, no. 2, 1 Sept. 2015, pp. 89-102., doi:10.1515/mmcks-2015-0008.
- Tsang, Jo-Ann, et al. “Why Are Materialists Less Happy? The Role of Gratitude and Need Satisfaction in the Relationship between Materialism and Life Satisfaction.” Academia.edu – Share Research, July 2014, www.academia.edu/7518544/Why_are_materialists_less_happy_The_role_of_gratitude_and_need_satisfaction_in_the_relationship_between_materialism_and_life_satisfaction.
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