Christmas and Materialism? A Good Fit

It's the Christmas season and materialism is rearing its ugly head.

According to two psychologists who studied the subject, materialism tends to be associated with treating others in more competitive, manipulative and selfish ways, as well as with being less empathetic. It 's associated with people making a lot of money and being able to buy a lot of things.  And did you know that TV makes us more materialistic?

"Research shows two sets of factors that lead people to have materialistic values," says Tim Kasser, Ph.D., a professor of psychology Knox College in Galesburg, IL. "First, people are more materialistic when they are exposed to messages that suggest such pursuits are important, whether through their parents and friends, society, or the media. 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,"

 I have a shopping addiction.  Buying things gives me a high.  I wouldn't say I'm materialistic but I guess, looking at my credit card bills, there's no other conclusion to draw!

Research shows that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic their values become. That's probably because both the shows and the ads send messages suggesting that happy, successful people are wealthy, have nice things, and are beautiful and popular. One has to remember that, in the U.S. at least, the vast majority of media are owned by a few for-profit corporations that make money by selling advertising, and the purpose of advertising is to sell products.

 Other research has shown that the more that advertising dominates the economy, the more materialistic youth are.

And a different study finds another societal norm to blame -- social media.  That makes sense, since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how social media companies make a profit.

Researchers even divide materialists into two groups:  some are "loose" with their money and some are "tight." Both types of people care about having money and possessions, but the loose materialist is going to spend and spend and spend, whereas the tight materialist will be more like Scrooge, trying to accumulate wealth.

I guess I fall in the "loose" category.

Materialism is associated with lower levels of well-being, less pro-social interpersonal behavior, more ecologically destructive behavior, and worse academic outcomes, according to Kasser.  But spending does have its pluses.

From the point of view of an economic/social system that relies on spending to drive high levels of profit for companies, economic growth for the nation, and tax revenue for the government, consumption and over-spending related to materialism may be viewed as a positive, he says.

But 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. 

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.

I remember when I was a stay-at-home mom, I shopped all the time.  Looking back now, I realize it was because, though I loved my son, I hated staying home and not going to a job and I needed something to fill that need.

A couple of studies have found that the negative relationship between materialism and well-being is even stronger for people who are religious. This is probably because there is a conflict between materialistic and religious pursuits.  It seems that trying to pursue materialistic and spiritual goals causes people conflict and stress, which in turn lowers their well-being.
 And what about materialism at Christmas?  To the extent people focused their holiday season around materialistic aims like spending and receiving, the less they were focused on spiritual aims.  Studies have also showed that people reported "merrier" Christmases when spirituality was a large part of their holiday, but reported lower Christmas well-being to the extent that the holiday was dominated by materialistic aspects.


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