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November 13, 2007

The Consumer Paradox: Scientists Find that Low Self-Esteem and Materialism Goes Hand in Hand

Rodeo_drive_2 “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need.”

~From the movie Fight Club, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

Researchers have found that low self-esteem and materialism are not just a correlation, but also a causal relationship where low self esteem increases materialism, and materialism can also create low self-esteem. The also found that as self esteem increases, materialism decreases. The study primarily focused on how this relationship affects children and adolescents. Lan Nguyen Chaplin (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Deborah Roedder John (University of Minnesota) found that even a simple gesture to raise self-esteem dramatically decreased materialism, which provides a way to cope with insecurity.

"By the time children reach early adolescence, and experience a decline in self-esteem, the stage is set for the use of material possessions as a coping strategy for feelings of low self-worth," they write in the study, which will appear in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The paradox that findings such as these bring up, is that consumerism is good for the economy but bad for the individual. In the short run, it’s good for the economy when young people believe they need to buy an entirely new wardrobe every year, for example. But the hidden cost is much higher than the dollar amount. There are costs in happiness when people believe that their value is extrinsic. There are also environmental costs associated with widespread materialism.

In the book “Happiness: Lessons From a New Science”, Richard Layard exposes a paradox at the heart of our lives. Most of us want more income so we can consume more. Yet as societies become richer, they do not become happier. In fact, the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago. This paradox is true of Britain, the United States, continental Europe and Japan.

Statistically people have more things than they did 50 years ago, but they are actually less happy in several key areas. There is also the considerable cost of what materialism does to the environment. We don’t yet know what final toll that could take in terms of quality of life and overall happiness. What many people don’t understand is that if we want to save the environment then at some level we have to buy and consume less. We don’t need to buy so much bottled water, for example. Studies have shown it’s usually not any purer than city tap water, which doesn’t leave mountains of plastic bottles strewn across the nations landfills. It also wastes energy and resources to make those plastic bottles and the many other unnecessary things that both youth and adults alike believe they need to have in order to enjoy life and feel good about themselves.

Mad Magazine summed it up with the statement, “The only reason a great many American families don't own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.”

That funny statement, is only funny because it’s somewhat true. The reason people want whatever is currently “hot” is because they believe it will contribute towards their satisfaction and happiness in life. The word “believe” is the key here. People believe that buying more and more things will make them happy, when in fact research has shown time and time again that this simply isn’t the case. What we do know for sure is that buying more and more unnecessary things is damaging our planet and contributing to global warming.

Sure, one person being less materialistic isn’t going to make a noticeable impact on the environment, but it will make a positive impact in that one life. Once entire nations start to understand the myths about what really makes individuals happy, the world will stand a fighting chance.

"Be The Difference You Want. To See In The World."
~Mahatma Gandi.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

Related Galaxy posts:

Bigger Threat Than Global Warming: Mass Species Extinction
The End of Oil?

Links:
http://www.csom.umn.edu/Page6393.aspx
http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/resolve?id=doi:10.1086/518546&erFrom=-9123002968287570526Guest
http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/publications/books/2005/Happiness.htm
http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2007/10/15/want-to-save-the-environment-buy-less-stuff/

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Comments

The three last links are broken or incomplete, and the last one "get rich slowly . org"??? really really looks like spam to me...

I would have liked to read one of those scientific study for myself, but I guess even anti-materialistic scientists don't actually give for free their articles?

Those 3 links work fine on my browser.

JyBy, Maybe you should check your network and/or browser security settings or something.

Good article, I think we all know deep down it's true, but at the same time it can be hard to fight the propoganda and not get suckered in to wanting a flashy car or 82 inch flatscreen TV.

There's another Ghandi quote that seems appropriate here: "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed"

I noticed this myself when I asked myself after another of those useless 'what would you buy if you won the power ball jackpot' questions.

The chance of that happening is negligible [I'd have to buy a ticket first], but it got me thinking. What would I buy if I won the jackpot? And the answer to that was quite surprising. I would buy very little. Aside from a house [which I don't think is a luxury] that was reasonably equipped, but not luxurious, I need very little.
There would be the occasional upgrade of aging gear but nothing 'to feel better'. It's just not essential to my well-being.

Ok, here's one: I'd pay top dollar for an awesome bathroom with a quality shower and a jacuzzi. That would be my luxury.

And time. Not having to work a dumb job to pay the bills would be a blessing. The time that is allotted to me, however much or little there is left. That would be all I really needed.

I can only eat one meal at a time, I have no need to impress anyone, inventory does not equal happiness for me.

Nice article.

But I thought everybody knew this anyway?

Maybe people who are in denial do not.

The statistic that people are now richer than they were 50 years ago is quite false. Perhaps people are less happy now because things are so much more expensive?

I hereby give away all my worldly possessions!

A-ha: now I have traded my crap for the largest ego on the planet -- moo-hoo-haw-ha!

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown
http://cheeseburgerbrown.com

Does anyone find it funny how the article talks about materialism causing lower self-esteem and that there are advertisements to buy stuff along the sides?

Good article too. :)

If you have ever lived in some war-torn third world (like Iraq), then you will learn that money and possessions DOES equal more happiness in life.

Don't take what you have for granted.

Good stuff. I posted it on my blog as well, the Karl Frank Jr. Communicator at http://karlfrankjr.wordpress.com

"If you have ever lived in some war-torn third world (like Iraq), then you will learn that money and possessions DOES equal more happiness in life."

You're way off track. Having money and possessions AS COMPARED to having NOTHING or being in extreme poverty will obviously make a person happier.

However, research shows that amassing MORE possessions and money when a person has already achieved some basic amount of middle-class status and self-sufficience actually doesn't make them happier.

The issue isn't have ANY possessions compared to nothing, it's wanting "more more more".

you should enjoy all your blessings
in life. they all come from God.
if you dont appreciate them, and feel guilty that other people dont have them, they are wasted. evidently, the Lord wants you to have them. be grateful and try to help those less fortunate. this is a good way of showing that you are thankful.

The problem with that analysis is that that isn't what the Bible says.

The American DOLT. Amazing to see the brainwashed replys from those who are HOPELESSLY enslaved. And what are you doing these days to protect yourself from the falling dollar? Down 50% since that puppet has been president. That means, my non-thinking unequals, that what you make and what you have is NOW worth 1/2 of what it was. Stock Market maybe? The funniest one was from a man I talked to that said, "Hell Yeah! Since the dollar is so low, we're going to Europe to take advantage of it!" I kid you not. Talk about totally fuc---- braindead sheep. BAAAAA BAAAAAA BAAAAAAA

Wow,

And hooray for science catching up to the bible. It only took them 2500 years.

We must remember that consuming less as a society will require a complete rethink of current economics -- which will be resisted mightily by the corporations and their clients: media, politicians. . .
This in turn will require a rethink of the corporation itself, the media, government, and their role in a world which views self- esteem and happiness as paramount.

We must remember that consuming less as a society will require a complete rethink of current economics -- which will be resisted mightily by the corporations and their clients: media, politicians. . .
This in turn will require a rethink of the corporation itself, the media, government, and their role in a world which views self- esteem and happiness as paramount.

I was thinking same thing as Mike, above. I am a Christian. My beliefs tend toward the spiritual/mystical. I am also fascinated with science & history. As I have matured as a Christian I have found I dislike modern culture: its crass, joyless materialism,profound unhappy egotism & need for stimulus of all kinds , its ugly lack of polite respect for others are disturbing to the peace - more, serenity - I have found in my relationship with the Divine & my 32 year marriage to my husband. Things do not make me happy, they are not my identity. They may be fun,often interesting but the joy, real happiness comes from my soul- my inner self.

If you read any history - it is consumption at the expense of the environment and common sense that have brought down great societies. I live in area where most people want bigger and better home, the latest fashions and lot of plastic surgery. They are the unhappiest bunch of people I have ever met. I began simplifying my life and have found it to be stress reducing and mind freeing. I drive a 16 year old car, stopped buying clothes I don't need, and started cooking instead of eating out. I have never felt better. I am trying to sell my home and will buy a smaller less exspensive one so I can work part-time and have more time for my family and community. I love it. When people comment on my old car - I tell them I am waiting for one that is environmentally friendly and I am saving to pay cash for it. You should see the looks on their faces.

I don't agree. First off it's very hard to measure happyness 50 years ago to happyness now. It's very arbitrary and there are lot of other issues involved. Secondly:

"By the time children reach early adolescence, and experience a decline in self-esteem, the stage is set for the use of material possessions as a coping strategy for feelings of low self-worth,"

This is just plain BS, I don't agree at all. A coping strategy? fine. But whos to say that possessions are any worse of a coping strategy than joining a book club? or going to church? or going to a psychologist? or doing drugs?

Everybody copes differently. If you're depressed and unhappy and you buy things to make you feel better, w/e, to each his own.

Re: the comments of the Christian (above): It would be nice if those Christian hucksters on TV would have a less greedy point of view . . . and would simply give back the money (and sell their possessions, as one religious figure about 2000 years ago apparently taught) to the poor suckers who gave the money to them, thinking that giving this money to the hucksters was -- get THIS! -- somehow "God's Will".

Money won't buy you happiness, but for sure poverty can serve up a generous helping of unhappiness.

Now the fact that we are bombarded with messages telling us that material wealth brings happiness is destroying the commonweal is obvious.

But bear in mind that the problems that most people face are far more real than self esteem issues.

When you are a parent who cannot raise your kids, your self esteem issues are NOT because you are a materialist, but because you cannot afford to support your family.

You know who needs this lecture?

The very people who are bankrupting the middle class.

Good luck telling THEM they lack self esteem.

They are brain damaged sociopaths, folks, and they don't give a rat's tail about anyone but themselves.

Sounds like B.S. to me.

Good article!

I wish people would use more of their money to help others in need than buy 4 new wardrobe lines a year, at least a couple of new gadgets like flashy ipods,latest generation cell phones, new cars, fancy jewelry and so on.

Looking "trendy" in the mirror and in your friend's eyes won't make your life better on the long run, buying food for the homeless guy you pass by each day in your road to work might...

The world 20 years from now looks downright scary! :(

I'm not buying this . . .

Granted there may not be a direct correlation between money and happiness, but I think that has more to do with the fact that to have a lot of money (unless you were born with it or inherited it), you generally have to make a number of serious personal sacrifices that make the person unhappy even though they have a yacht and other great stuff (they never have the time to use). It may also have something to do with the fact that obsessive compulsive perfectionists who can never be happy are more represented in upper percentiles of wealth.

Unless you control for these and other factors, you really have nothing more than propaganda designed to keep the lower class from getting too down about their lot in life.

If you controlled for everything, and compared the same person in a poor situation where they don't know where their next meal is coming from and then put them in a rich one, there's no way in hell they wouldn't be happier in the rich one.

Call it for what it is - consumerism, not materialism.

We have false self-esteem that is psychologically enforced every time one are about to buy something. When sales people and counter people ask, "How are you today?", the only socially acceptable answer you must give is "great", or "fine". This temporarily covers up the real reason for shopping, and the positive social contact engenders a dependency on returning.

"Knowledge says, money can't buy happiness but the absence of it sure can take it away" - Ze Frank

"And hooray for science catching up to the bible."
And hooray for Christianity repeating Buddhism and animistic religions!

w00t!

Lan Nguyen Chaplin and Deborah Roedder John are Professors of Marketing -- but Scientists?

"In fact, the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago. This paradox is true of Britain, the United States, continental Europe and Japan."

This is politially correct bilge. I suppose they were healthier 50 years ago also?

People of low self esteem seek comfort in innumerable distractions that include "spirituality", drugs/alcohol, and what is better termed "consumerism" (Marx was a materialist...). The causes of low self esteem are not understood. Half of our behavioral endowment is genetic. The environmental factors are numerous and not so simply quantifiable.

Its about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Find happiness, or comfort where you can.

What do you mean when you say that's 'politically correct bilge'? You should support your statements with an explanation.
And while the causes of low self esteem may not be perfectly clear, anyone can identify at least some of the basic factors that can contribute to it. Also it is by no means certain that 'half of our behavioural endowment is genetic.' That's still strongly debated and while it's pretty obvious that there's a bit of nature and a bit of nurture in there, no one know's exactly where to draw the line.

Consuming is an endless cycle because that fancy new car/phone/TV/etc will not be fancy and new for very long, so while it may temporarily grant happiness, it traps the buyer into going back for more - makes them dependent on comsumerism for their happiness. So finding happiness through consumerism isn't really finding (sustainable) happiness at all. That's the whole point of the article..

What do you mean when you say that's 'politically correct bilge'? You should support your statements with an explanation.
And while the causes of low self esteem may not be perfectly clear, anyone can identify at least some of the basic factors that can contribute to it. Also it is by no means certain that 'half of our behavioural endowment is genetic.' That's still strongly debated and while it's pretty obvious that there's a bit of nature and a bit of nurture in there, no one know's exactly where to draw the line.

Consuming is an endless cycle because that fancy new car/phone/TV/etc will not be fancy and new for very long, so while it may temporarily grant happiness, it traps the buyer into going back for more - makes them dependent on comsumerism for their happiness. So finding happiness through consumerism isn't really finding (sustainable) happiness at all. That's the whole point of the article..

"What do you mean when you say that's 'politically correct bilge?"

The quote in question is the following:

'In fact, the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago. This paradox is true of Britain, the United States, continental Europe and Japan.'

It is politically correct bilge because it is not backed up by a single objective citation or statistic. - nor can it be. It is the opinion of the author, written to support a personal narrative. Anyone who makes some claim as to the happiness of people 50 years ago vs. today is full of it. Quantifying something called "happiness" is silly enough. Comparing happiness now to happiness then shows the author to be a hack.

Consuming is an endless cylce. So what? Make it environmentally friendly and it will still be an endless cycle. Life is an endless cycle. People are not trapped by consumerism any more than they are trapped by religion which is all about endless cycles if you're of the Eastern spiritual persuasion. You have a choice. If you want to join a monastery, or eschew the pleasures of technology like Ghandi, go right ahead. Personally, I enjoy spending my money on stuff and so do a lot of like-minded folks. And our self esteem is just fine, thank you.

Low self esteem has many causes which are not readily quantifiable, and many correlates, which can be measured. Correlation and causation are two different matters, however. If this article were about the correlation between a purported need for "spirituality" and low self-esteem, it would not get half the politically correct traction that appears in these comments. Low self esteem seeks relief. It's not much more complicated than that IMO. Consumerism has not been shown to be a cause of low self-esteem, nor a trap into low self-esteem. It is simply another of many correlates.

"So finding happiness through consumerism isn't really finding (sustainable) happiness at all. That's the whole point of the article.."

No, that's perhaps your whole point. Who said consumerism IS finding sustainable happiness? It's a straw man that you're taking down. That is not the point being made by the article.

The article purports to draw causal connections between self-esteem/happiness and consumerism, and makes arbitary unsupported statements about happiness then, and happiness now. You do the something similar when you make unsubstantiated remarks that consumerism "traps" the buyer...making them "dependent". That's just your opinion.

Exactly. If we all just became Buddhist monks we'd be so much happier(not that I have anything against Buddihst monks).

Yes, there are a lot of people with low self-esteem who think that if they buy a lot of stuff it will make them happy. There are also a lot of people with low self-esteem who think that if they turn their lives over to Christ it will make them happy. Or elect a Democrat president, for that matter.

"Or elect a Democrat president, for that matter."

Hmm. Cheap and off topic, but couldn't help yourself I suppose?

Well, then there is another route away from the low self esteem that comes from a series of life failures, and that is is to have a President for a father, and surround yourself with a cadre of loyal sychophants, irrespective of their individual merits. This is seemingly also a good way to escape the low self esteem one might incur from imprisoning people without trial and torturing them into giving faulty intelligence used as justification for going to war.

I agree, there are many avenues of escape from low self esteem. Fortunately, the Constitution insures that this particular path is not "sustainable".

Nice to see posts on this subject. But what I miss is the idea that the self-esteem issues have to be dealt with before materialism subsides. You can't just expect people to refrain from a natural impulse. Like you point out: low self-esteem leads to materialsm. You'll only lower materialsm by raising self-esteem.

Absolute b_llshit!!!!

"Nice to see posts on this subject. But what I miss is the idea that the self-esteem issues have to be dealt with before materialism subsides. You can't just expect people to refrain from a natural impulse. Like you point out: low self-esteem leads to materialsm. You'll only lower materialsm by raising self-esteem."

More nonsense. You honestly believe this garbage?

My biggest problem with this article is this statement:

The paradox that findings such as these bring up, is that consumerism is good for the economy but bad for the individual.

That doesn't seem to follow from what the researchers said. Rather, consumerism is a symptom of low self-esteem. It's not the consumerism that's bad for the individual; it's the esteem issue.

If people weren't allowed a materialistic outlet, they would look for something else to fill that hole.

"If people weren't allowed a materialistic outlet, they would look for something else to fill that hole."

I agree. It is spirituality for some, alcohol, drugs or even sexual predation for others. Consumerism is one of many symptoms of low self esteem, its as simple as that.

The article and the thread both cast a value judgement on "consumerism", assuming it to be nothing more than superficial materialism, and an evil in its own right. All of this fanfare is not about low self esteem at all, its just about the evils of consumerism. It's transparent and silly.

its better to be rich and unhappy, then be broke and unhappy!

a no brainer!

There's nothing wrong with having stuff, per se. But what's wrong is when you look to stuff to deliver balance and serenity to you life, which objects can never do.

http://businessopinions.blogspot.com/2007/11/materialism-consumption-and-poor-self.html

It is always interesing to see religious concepts verified by science. The Taoists have long taught that the way to be happy is to want less. The vow of poverty, taken by western religious groups, works the same way as a promoter of happiness. The problem is not the desire to accumulate wealth but rather the expenditure of it in ways that promote the self rather than help others.

As an Interior Designer, I have learned that mindful materialism is a blessing. Have you found that when you are doing something you love, the time passes quickly and your energy level does not. There is love. This is not a perfect world, and there are all levels of insecurity. Sometimes a mindful gift, a materialstic gift that can be defined after emotion, can help cure. And, the level of each [esteem and materialism] is not necessarily relative. A hug can cure a catastrophe. A $25,000 painting can inspire one to walk to the mailbox. There is so much more to be said. A child's Thanksgiving turkey coloring {you know, trace the hand, fill in the color] placed in a frame and placed on the Thanksgiving table can be nominal in cost and maximultitudious (if that was a word) in effect.

I have been on both sides! For 30 yrs I made plenty of money and spent plenty of money on material things. My Life now is completely different, because 7 yrs ago I got sick from working too much and then went into a severe depression, followed by a suicide attempt. I guess God didn't want me to die, because I'm HAPPY for the first time in my Life after starting my Life over again. I don't have much money, but it's a Blessing! I appreciate my Family & friends more and I KNOW who my Friends are also. Money isn't the problem if your a functional, happy person, but if your insecure, it is deadly!

I would like to add, that 5 yrs of Volunteering has changed my perspective, from Me, Me, Me, to having compassion for others and I've become more patient. Volunteering is the Key to losing materialism. Why do we need something Newer! or Bigger??
We need to be HAPPY!

I would like to add, that 5 yrs of Volunteering has changed my perspective, from Me, Me, Me, to having compassion for others and I've become more patient. Volunteering is the Key to losing materialism. Why do we need something Newer! or Bigger??
We need to be HAPPY!

Great Article, I didn't know Low Self-Esteem and Materialism had such an impact on each other.

Great Article, I didn't know Low Self-Esteem and Materialism had such an impact on each other.

Great Article, I didn't know Low Self-Esteem and Materialism had such an impact on each other.

Great article! I have been saying this for years, but few seem to listen.

I think the really important thing to remember is that in the end "stuff" is just that....."stuff". When your old and on your death bed do you really think that you will be thinking about the "stuff" you have owned throughout your life? Even if you are, what good will it do you then? If your lucky enough to have that option, I am willing to bet that you will be thinking about your friends, family, and loved ones. If for some reason you have sacrificed all for the sake of "stuff" throughout your life, then expect to be alone on your death bed, and vultures circling your carcass for the "stuff" you have acquired after you’re gone.

When I am on my death bed I want those around me to love me for who I am as a person, and not for what I have.

What is the point of collecting useless items anyways? If you’re lucky enough to be financially wealthy, then use it to help your family. There is no better feeling then giving to those who appreciate it. It will make you a happier and better person in the end.

Doug, thanks for sharing that about yourself. I know everyone is different, but for you to share your personal insights after having been on both sides of the equation is really great of you. It certainly gave me something to think about. Thanks again. Glad you're happier now. :-)

B.B.,
That is a very nice comment from you! For 27 yrs I lived on a merry go round of spending on material things to keep up with the Joneses, trying to make myself happier and all I got was more unhappy. My marriage died because it was conditional on me bringing home money. I can tell you that you find out who cares about you, when your broke! Don't believe the World about material things, believe your heart and don't be a slave to advertising. To have a truly successful Life, have a Budget and stick to it! Love yourself FIRST, then others! Don't try buying friends. People will be drawn to you, the stronger you get!

B.B.,
That is a very nice comment from you! For 27 yrs I lived on a merry go round of spending on material things to keep up with the Joneses, trying to make myself happier and all I got was more unhappy. My marriage died because it was conditional on me bringing home money. I can tell you that you find out who cares about you, when your broke! Don't believe the World about material things, believe your heart and don't be a slave to advertising. To have a truly successful Life, have a Budget and stick to it! Love yourself FIRST, then others! Don't try buying friends. People will be drawn to you, the stronger you get!

I've thought about this & if anyone wants to talk, here is my E-Mail;
[email protected]

I've thought about this & if anyone wants to talk, here is my E-Mail;
[email protected]

Great article! I use it in my company blog at claywear.com while encouraging visiters to join Buy Nothing Day. Some people may consider it a paradox that a company find these issues important, but we would find it more weird if we didn't. Thanks again, keep on writing.

Glad I'm not the only one disgusted by materialism!!

In my material(ist) life, I always feel happier to have built something than to have consumed something.

Interesting to stumble upon this article after I had written something very similar myself, regarding the same study. Check it out.

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