The Psychological Case Against Materialism

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Love of stuff will make you unhappy: You know this, and in case you forget, there is probably, somewhere, some version of A Christmas Carol playing on television right now to remind you. But in a release this morning from the American Psychological Association, psychology professor Tim Kasser gives an interesting perspective from his research on just why placing a high value on stuff is no good. In a recent meta-analysis he published with colleagues from the University of Sussex, he found that materialism seems to undermine some of our deepest human needs. 

Specifically materialistic 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. 

Autonomy, competence, and relatedness are, according to a popular psychological theory of human happiness, three of our most basic psychological needs. We need to feel as if we have a certain amount of control over our lives; we need to feel as if we are contributing to our environments — to work, home, or elsewhere — and experiencing growth in that area by learning new skills; finally, we need to feel as if we belong somewhere. Focusing on acquiring more stuff is not going to help satisfy any of those needs, says Kasser. It’s an interesting insight that comes at one of the most stuff-crazed times of the year.