We live in a world in which we are constantly bombarded with images of celebrities and their flawless bodies, luxurious homes, the latest fashion trends, and the coolest gadgets. In the midst of all of these things it can be easy to be swayed towards the belief that we are supposed to live our lives according to the standards that society sets for us. Consider the following questions:
- Do you believe that you would be happier if you just had more money?
- Do you envy those who have nicer belongings than you do?
- Do you and your partner worry about accumulating wealth and assets?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you may want to consider whether you are placing a high level of importance on acquiring wealth, and if so, what potential side effects this type of thinking may have on your life and relationships.
I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
The Rolling Stones may have been on to something when they wrote I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, referring to not being satisfied by material things despite trying. Interestingly, according to Carolyn Gregorie of The Huffington Post, Americans have more cars and eat out more than they did roughly 50 years ago. However, despite having more, Americans are still not happier. Research has found that, although the levels of consumption have risen in the past 50 years, Americans’ overall wellbeing has declined.
You may be asking yourself, “Why does this all matter?” Well, if you believe that the solution to your problems is having more, you may want to take note that research has found having more does not necessarily mean you will be happier. In fact, it has found that those who work towards accumulating wealth and assets have a tendency to experience less positive emotions throughout their day and are less satisfied than those who do not pursue wealth.
In AC/DC’s popular song, Money Talks, part of the chorus says “Come on, come on, love me for the money,” as if having large amounts of money can make someone fall in love with you. Interestingly, research has shown that individuals who are materialistic may find themselves in unhappy relationships compared to those who do not place importance on their belongings and the acquisition of more. Jason Carroll, professor of family life at Brigham Young University found this is true for all income classes. Additionally, his study found that the least satisfying marriages were those in which both partners placed great importance on their possessions.
Carroll and his research team developed theories as to how materialism can affect a relationship, and they believe that it could be that those couples who spend more time focusing on accumulating wealth spend less time working on strengthening their relationship. Another theory that Carroll and his team considered was that reckless spending habits caused couples to have more stress and more discussions. Therefore they were more likely to be dissatisfied with their relationship.
Welcome to the Hotel California
The Eagles give their listeners a glimpse into the powerful trap of materialism in their popular song, Hotel California. The lyrics of the song paint a picture of a man caught in the life of luxury at the Hotel California, only to realize too late that he and everyone there “are all just prisoners… of [their] own device.” As if the effects of materialism listed above were not worrisome enough, studies have found that individuals who are materialistic are also more insecure, anxious, and depressed than those individuals who are not materialistic.
In a different study, psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen and his team of researchers found that students who were exposed to images of luxury items and words compared to students who were exposed to nature scenes, rated themselves higher in anxiety and depression than the other students. This research is important because it indicates that people who have a mind frame of materialism may have higher levels of depression and anxiety as opposed to those individuals who do not.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
We live in a society that applies a great deal of pressure on its consumers to have more in order to be “happy.” We have been led to believe that satisfaction will come from collecting material things. However, this way of thinking does not guarantee happiness, stable relationships, or a reduction in anxiety and depression. In fact, being materialistic seems to provide the complete opposite by leading to less satisfaction, strained relationships, and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
If living the life of a rock ‘n’ roll star is not the way towards a life of happiness and fulfillment, then how do you find satisfaction? Perhaps it might be found in engaging in the opposite of materialism, gratitude. Recent studies on happiness suggest that having deep feelings of gratitude beyond good manners could contribute largely to our happiness. With all of this in mind, just remember the wise words of Axl Rose, ” nothin’ lasts forever, even cold November rain.”
Practicum Student Therapist
Supervised by Dr. Amy Fuller, PhD, LMFT, LPC