Scientists Find that Low Self-Esteem & Materialism Goes Hand in Hand
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January 30, 2009

Scientists Find that Low Self-Esteem & 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

A Galaxy classic...with a recession going full force, we thought this feature might help ease the pain.

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/

Comments

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.

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 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 the next decade the true costs of materialism are going to hit home. Everything from the resource wars we are currenty engaged in to the credit collapse can be tagged to materialism. The larger problem is the idea that happiness is a tangilbe thing. Happiness is subjective to a large degree. For some volenteering brings happiness. For others a walk in a forest does the same thing. What we need to begin concetrating on is the idea of contentment. Being comfortable in our own skins. the first thing we can do is turn off the TV. Second is to get rid of advertising. Just an idea.

I don't agree with the bottled water vs city tap water part. I refuse to drink tap water thanks to fluoride. It's a poison and I won't drink it. I'd rather have a healthier body than worry about a few plastic bottles. Sorry.

Dude I've been drinking tap all my life if anything I refuse to drink bottled water. I recently got a full check up and I'm as healthy as a horse. Man up and drink some tap you materialistic paranoid low esteemed piece of man waste.

Materialism, like other trends in society, is driven by mob mentality. It;s not buying things that hurts our self-esteem, it's our lack of judgment to see the value and the real need for the things we are buying. We only buy some things because we are told to, or we see everyone else buy them too, and we want to conform. People with low self-esteem want to conform more, so they are more likely to buy more useless stuff.

The statement about fist world rate or alcoholics ect...is that compared percentage of population in the first world vs economically underdeveloped worlds, or the actual number(percentage) increases within each population ?...how is that statistic measured?

Sheep mentality must not be confused with a desire for comfort. It's just a lack of understanding of value and need. Those things could only be learned...otherwise follow the herd. (Who knows better than a marketer as to what I need)

Do we need convenience to be happy? No, but convenience can make us happier. Just think about it. Commuting to work for 1.5 hrs vs 20 minutes....how much would your quality of life improve just by that change? You just saw the value of convenience...no need.

I guess I am just trying to understand what materialism really is because I didn't grow up in that environment and many things that I didn't have when I grew up might seem like a luxury. However, would you say the same thing of dental floss, or a purse vs a plastic bag to keep your belongings...Do you really need those things?

Plastic water bottles is not a issue, it's lack of understanding of what you need to be happy and what others tell you you need to be happy.

Materialism, like other trends in society, is driven by mob mentality. It;s not buying things that hurts our self-esteem, it's our lack of judgment to see the value and the real need for the things we are buying. We only buy some things because we are told to, or we see everyone else buy them too, and we want to conform. People with low self-esteem want to conform more, so they are more likely to buy more useless stuff.

The statement about fist world rate or alcoholics ect...is that compared percentage of population in the first world vs economically underdeveloped worlds, or the actual number(percentage) increases within each population ?...how is that statistic measured?

Sheep mentality must not be confused with a desire for comfort. It's just a lack of understanding of value and need. Those things could only be learned...otherwise follow the herd. (Who knows better than a marketer as to what I need)

Do we need convenience to be happy? No, but convenience can make us happier. Just think about it. Commuting to work for 1.5 hrs vs 20 minutes....how much would your quality of life improve just by that change? You just saw the value of convenience...no need.

I guess I am just trying to understand what materialism really is because I didn't grow up in that environment and many things that I didn't have when I grew up might seem like a luxury. However, would you say the same thing of dental floss, or a purse vs a plastic bag to keep your belongings...Do you really need those things?

Plastic water bottles is not a issue, it's lack of understanding of what you need to be happy and what others tell you you need to be happy.

Materialism, like other trends in society, is driven by mob mentality. It;s not buying things that hurts our self-esteem, it's our lack of judgment to see the value and the real need for the things we are buying. We only buy some things because we are told to, or we see everyone else buy them too, and we want to conform. People with low self-esteem want to conform more, so they are more likely to buy more useless stuff.

The statement about fist world rate or alcoholics ect...is that compared percentage of population in the first world vs economically underdeveloped worlds, or the actual number(percentage) increases within each population ?...how is that statistic measured?

Sheep mentality must not be confused with a desire for comfort. It's just a lack of understanding of value and need. Those things could only be learned...otherwise follow the herd. (Who knows better than a marketer as to what I need)

Do we need convenience to be happy? No, but convenience can make us happier. Just think about it. Commuting to work for 1.5 hrs vs 20 minutes....how much would your quality of life improve just by that change? You just saw the value of convenience...no need.

I guess I am just trying to understand what materialism really is because I didn't grow up in that environment and many things that I didn't have when I grew up might seem like a luxury. However, would you say the same thing of dental floss, or a purse vs a plastic bag to keep your belongings...Do you really need those things?

Plastic water bottles is not a issue, it's lack of understanding of what you need to be happy and what others tell you you need to be happy.

A further qualifier-- define economy. Is it merely total dollar value of goods and services, or rather the degree to which we can sustainably live with our environment?
Hunter-gatherers worked approximately ten hours a week to support their families and had an abundance of resources. Now we often spend ten hours a week just commuting, work forty to over a hundred hours for forty years, and end up arguing whether we can drink the water, much less eat the fish-- or peanut butter. We push mountaintops into riverbeds, clear-cut our forests for toilet paper, dump mercury into our oceans along with hundreds of thousands of tons of nuclear wastes and acidify our oceans, killing the coral and plankton that are the foundation of our food chain. We foreclose on farmers whose lands are contaminated with our patented genes. Thousands of our children die in resource wars, thousands more are imprisoned for property and drug crimes. There is an island the size of Texas in the Pacific, composed of our plastic trash. Dow Chemical is fighting the FDA to escape Michigan's enforcement of a cleanup of the worst dioxin contamination ever found. All so we can buy stuff.
Cycles of inflation, deflation, and debt dispossess us and leave us homeless, or straining to pay utility bills to stave off freezing to death.
Government has been limited to elites quibbling over property and entrenched interests stifling innovation.
Perhaps the definition of "economy" is evolving with our scientific understanding of life on Earth.

Hi there,

Considering every change that society needs to go through according to every poster above.
I think Neale Donald Walsch wrote 3 books that could guide the entire matter.

Keep an open mind and have faith in us all.

Roel Poelwijk
The Netherlands

I absolutely agree. Why wouldn't increased consumerism undermine self-esteem by the time someone is an adolescent. True self-worth can only be developed from within by taking on challenging goals and using all of one's skill and abilities to try to accomplish the goal. Consumerism is all about wanting more stuff we don't need or appreciate. Consumerism at it's worst gives an external and false sense of worth that is subject to external forces over which we have no control. Learning to take on challenges and make self sacrifice gives us internal focus and internal strength to face any external difficulty. See www.drrussbuss.com at the
moment-to-moment optimism blog

Consumerism versus NOT consumerism....good point for meditation and thinking to our lifestyle.

Unfortunately our current lifestyle is in danger due to a global recession...somewhat also pushed by blind consumerism...and false points of arrival (life targets).

Many on the planet survive well even without buying a house...just rent it.

Others do NOT need a fancy 4WD 'megacar' for downtown trips (I am one of these latter).

What are the final aims that we point at ???

Dispersed and variable....their relation to happyness ???
Who knows ....uncertain.

We have been pushed by pubblicity to buy this and that
...we can survive well even without fancy objects.

We dislike the work we do ??? Yes generally we do that for money.....'bad Job for good money...'

Model of our life and the entire life style is changing ??? YEAH ...recession is not going to be a virtual game...it is here and can worsen in the future...

jobless ??? increasing.....their future aims will be commensurate with what thy will afford.....

We do not think too much other than money when the rich times are around us.....WRONG approach.

Human beings ??? too much influenced by the so called current culture....

The article is indeed interesting....expecially now when the hard times are around us and the worse is coming ...

Regards

I sell happiness! Send me 16 easy payments of $89.99 and once a week I'll send you an envelope stuffed full of my patented 'happy air'*

*Happy air comes from my butt!

robbed of their imagination, the children who grew in the warm glo of the cathode ray never had a chance to form truly original ideas.

their small thoughts were taken and branded, bursts of light for a brief but significant moment controlled the synapses, the insistence of advertising blowing through the fragile bubble of innocence.

As truly spiritual beings, humans who do not create are restless and bored, dissatisfied. art is a material creation? what of that? it is not the material, rather:

it is the useless and mundane. it dulls the senses and stills the wings of uplifting drama.

do not drink from preformed plastic cups, manufactured in questionable facilities in some region of china
and give a thought or prayer because as I write, death squads disappear Buddhist Monks in what is no longer officially 'Tibet'.

we dream, we blog, we wander. it all washes together and becomes a distant song in the universe, dissolves like thin clouds in the ripeness of morning.

I think to each his own. Those who want to believe that there's a link between materialism and self-esteem, that's fine, but for every study out there, there's a study that says the opposite.

In my case, materialism goes to the fact that as a kid I didn't have very much because my parents couldn't afford it. So, as an adult, it's gratifying to be able to give my kids (myself being one), the things I couldn't have as a kid. Within reason of course.

TANK. I WANT YOUR BLOG LINK.
....... in a non desperate way.

Materialism is a bitch, but I want more shoes :-)

Not to nit-pick, but it's Mahatma Gandhi, not Gandi or Ghandi.

Talk about becoming less materialistic and materialism gets more important.

Show how to become happy and feel good.

Gerd

It takes scientist to reveal this to the world in the year 2009.

Personally, I have never wanted more than I need. Perhaps, what I have most wanted is enough to live on and never have to go to work. I have also had low self esteem but this for me comes from having entirely different wants and needs from most of the population. I see little worth in luxuries that working rubbish jobs achieves so have always felt an outsider. How would this article explain low self esteem and little materialism?

The manipulated quote from Gandhi :

"Be The Difference You Want. To See In The World."

is not right.

It should be written without a 'dot' as:

"Be the Difference you want to see In the world"

which means something completely different

I just read an article the other day that linked shallowness to genius.

To me the whole issue doesn't have to do with materialism so much as a need to compete. It's okay to buy nice things but when you have to out-do someone or don't compensate in other areas, sure that could be a sign of not having a fulfilling life.

There is a difference between buying things of value and over consuming.

Yes - it is a vicious circle when the idnividual human hasnt learnt or not taught to appreciate reciprocity and serving the needs and causes then - the only boost for the self-esteem happens to be materialistic... accumulate and show off spend extravagantly and vulgarly and show off...

But as per the true saying that 'there is no free lunch for anyone'.... unbridled consumarism and materialism takes a person to successive lower esteem states... The 'other spouse' will be the only person sustaining the materialistic egoist..

It is indeed a pathological state needing therapy..

All of us need to check ourselves too..


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