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.

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? Beyond The Purchase is a website dedicated to understanding the psychology behind spending decisions and the relationship between money and happiness. We study how factors like your values and personality interact with spending decisions to affect your happiness. At Beyond The Purchase you can take quizzes that help you understand what motivates your spending decisions, and you’ll get personalized feedback and tips. For example:

How do you score on the five fundamental dimensions of personality? Take our Big Five personality test and find out.

How do you feel about your past, present, and future? Take the Time Attitudes Survey and learn about your relation with time.

How happy are your Facebook updates? We can analyze your last 25 Facebook status updates and determine how happy you have been.

How happy is your subconscious? Take our Happiness IAT and find out.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness. To read more about the connection between money and happiness, go to the Beyond the Purchase blog.

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

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