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A psychologist explains why materialism is making you unhappy

I have all these bags with things in them, and yet I'm so unfulfilled.
I have all these bags with things in them, and yet I'm so unfulfilled.

Materialists lead unhappier lives — and are worse to the people around them. And it seems that social media might be fueling materialistic attitudes, too. This is all according to a fascinating interview the American Psychological Association posted in 2014 with Knox College psychologist Tim Kasser, whose research focuses on materialism and well-being.

Here are the best bits.

Materialists are sad, terrible people:

We know from research that materialism tends to be associated with treating others in more competitive, manipulative and selfish ways, as well as with being less empathetic ...

[M]aterialism is associated with lower levels of well-being, less pro-social interpersonal behavior, more ecologically destructive behavior, and worse academic outcomes. It also is associated with more spending problems and debt ...

We found that the more highly people endorsed materialistic values, the more they experienced unpleasant emotions, depression and anxiety, the more they reported physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches, and the less they experienced pleasant emotions and felt satisfied with their lives.

People become more materialistic when they feel insecure:

Research shows two sets of factors that lead people to have materialistic values. First, people are more materialistic when they are exposed to messages that suggest such pursuits are important ... Second, and somewhat less obvious — people are more materialistic when they feel insecure or threatened, whether because of rejection, economic fears or thoughts of their own death.

Materialism is linked to media exposure and national-advertising expenditures:

The research shows that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic their values are ... A study I recently published with psychologist Jean Twenge ... found that the extent to which a given year’s class of high school seniors cared about materialistic pursuits was predictable on the basis of how much of the U.S. economy came from advertising and marketing expenditures — the more that advertising dominated the economy, the more materialistic youth were.

Materialism is linked to social media use, too:

One study of American and Arab youth found that materialism is higher as social media use increases ... That makes sense, since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how the social media companies make a profit.

Many psychologists think that materialists are unhappy because these people neglect their real psychological needs:

[M]aterialistic 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. When people do not have their needs well-satisfied, they report lower levels of well-being and happiness, as well as more distress.

Check out the whole interview at the APA's website.