Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

Materialistic People Look To Others When Purchasing

Materialists pay attention to the opinions and spending behaviors of others.

While most people don’t consider themselves to be materialistic, everyone may occasionally find themselves secretly envying that new Lexus their neighbor just bought and find themselves wanting one of their own. New research suggests that it may be beneficial to your well-being to resist those imitative desires.

A study of 136 adults conducted at BeyondThePurchase.org found that people who consider material possessions to be an important part of their lives tend to be more influenced by the brand choices of friends and family, and more concerned with what other people think of their purchases. Researchers view this type of purchasing behavior as an attempt to create a socially visible identity and a sense of connection with similar brand owners. Unfortunately, this type of purchasing focus often carries with it unwanted psychological consequences.

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While both materialism and having an external focus are associated with lower life satisfaction, less happiness, and higher levels of depression, this study suggests that people may be better off spending their money on more internally satisfying purchases such as life experiences, which have been shown to be less subject to outward social comparisons.

How can you find out where you stand in the consumerism game? To learn about your spending habits and what influences your buying behavior, first Login or Register with Beyond The Purchase. Then, we encourage you to take the Consumer Susceptibility to Interpersonal Influence Scale, which measures the extent to which the values of your family and friends influence your own behavior. You might also try the Materialistic Values Scale and find out about your own values—as well as those of your friends. We think you may learn a lot about spending habits, happiness, and values. The results might be surprising.

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University.

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