New Research Shows Materialism More Misery-Inducing Than We Thought

The very fantastic Oliver Burkeman reports on two studies that indicate that materialism has wider implications for our health and well-being than previously thought. It seems that not only are highly materialistic people likely to be less satisfied with life, they are also likely to be less able to deal with shocks:

“In a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, researchers from American and Israeli universities investigated levels of post-traumatic stress among residents of a town in southern Israel that came under sustained Palestinian rocket attacks six years ago. Highly materialistic individuals, they discovered, exhibited far higher levels of post-traumatic stress, and were much more likely to try to soothe themselves via compulsive shopping. That last part maybe isn’t especially surprising. But the first part is. Your stress levels in response to a mortal threat wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with your feelings about shopping and happiness. But as one of the researchers, Aric Rindfleisch, put it, the results suggest that “if you’re a materialistic individual and life suddenly takes a wrong turn, you’re going to have a tougher time recovering from that setback than someone who is less materialistic.”

In some ways, this should come as no great surprise. The psychologist, Tim Kasser has made a lifetime study of the effects of the value system which underpins conventional materialism. In study after study, Kasser and colleagues have found that people who are more oriented to extrinsic, materialistic values are less likely to be satisfied with life. They experience fewer ‘pleasant emotions,’ more distress, anxiety and depression, are more prone to narcissism and substance abuse, and are more likely to experience negative emotions like being ‘angry, scared and sad.’ The damage is not just personal; it places a strain on the wider community too.

But what can we do about it? Appeals to abstinence hardly have a good track record (think of under-age drinking, or stopping teenagers having sex). And we are, after all, part of a material world. So what if the answer to the depressing legacy of high velocity consumerism lies not in shutting out the material world (we are, after all, part of it) but developing a healthier relationship with it by caring for, making and sharing the things we have?

That is the idea behind the ‘Make Something Month’ experiment. Making, mending and cultures of caring for what we have support the development of relationships, community and the satisfaction of a job well done. For evidence of this, take a look at Henry Hemming’s book, Together, documenting the vast range of small groups flourishing across the country many of which are craft based. He came across groups ranging from Knitting Hill and the Hadleigh Bobbin Lace-Making Class to the Hoover Amateur Radio Club. From knitting in pubs to the growing number of hackerspaces in the UK, people are getting together to make and do. But what if learning to make isn’t just enjoyable? What if, learning to make and do for ourselves might also leave us (psychologically and practically) better able to respond to changing circumstances?

Give it a try, make something

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