Materialism and happiness

This page last updated June 13th, 2016

This page in brief ….

There is an enormous imbalance in wealth between different countries and within each country. But extensive studies show, while the poor are not as happy as everyone else, the richest are not necessarily happier than average.

It is probably best to have just enough – and to be happy with that.

Can wealth and prosperity give us happiness?

Many of us think that being rich, able to afford to buy what we want, live in a good house and drive a flash car, would makes us happy. But we’d only be partly right.

People in the more affluent countries are, on average, happier than those in poorer countries. Within a country, wealthy people tend to be slightly happier than poor people, other things being equal. Which is what we might expect. But once a person has enough money to purchase the necessities of life and to feel in control of their finances, their happiness doesn’t increase much even if they get a lot more money.

Happiness, satisfaction and meaning

But that isn’t the end of the story. People in richer countries feel that life has less meaning and have higher suicide rates. It seems that wealth can buy short term pleasure and satisfaction, but to achieve emotional wellbeing, humans also need a sense of purpose.

People tend to be happier when they gain intrinsic rewards (those that come as part of another experience), not external ones (where the rewards are sought for their own sake). Thus, people who spend their time and money on experiences and relationships are generally happier than those who spend on possessions.

People who rate materialistic goals like wealth as top personal priorities are significantly likelier to be more anxious, more depressed and more frequent drug users, and even to have more physical ailments than those who set their sights on more intrinsic values reports Arthur Brooks.

We want to understand the meaning of life, and create meaning in our lives and money can’t do that for us. Clinical psychologist, Amanda Gordon.

Wanting to be wealthy can be self defeating

Psychologists have found that people who place more importance on being happy, become more unhappy and depressed. Wanting to have more is one aspect of this – it quite definitely leads to being less happy and never really satisfied. When oil billionaire John D Rockefeller was asked, How much money is enough money? he replied, Just a little bit more.

Psychologist Ed Diener: Materialism is toxic to happiness.

The bottom line

So if you want to be happy, be content with what you have, enjoy it when you can increase your wealth, but don’t worry or be competitive about it. Enjoy living and relating to people, not owning – affluence is not what makes people happy.

The tricky part is, you’ll have to be really convinced. Western culture, influenced so much by commercial interests and advertising, will constantly send you a different – and false – message, that getting more things is what you really want.

Photo: I don’t know where this photo came from now, but I think it was from a free photo site.

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