Pope Francis came out with his widely discussed “The Joy of the Gospel,” which generated controversy in many quarters. In it, he condemned “consumerism,” “the tyranny of capitalism,” and the “idolatry of money.” He pulled no punches.
In a world in which religion is often pitted against science, this is one notable time that the Pope’s position echoes the findings of social science research. A team of American and Israeli researchers examined the effect of materialistic values and found—as many earlier studies had—that the subjective sense of emotional well-being (more popularly known as happiness) is lower among the most materialistic. An additional, surprising finding was that people with materialistic values suffered greater distress when faced with trauma: anything from car accidents, life-threatening illness, or terror attacks. Furthermore, highly materialistic people recovered from these traumatic events with more difficulty than those who were less materialistic.
Having materialistic values amplifies the hard times, and impedes recovering from them.
The authors speculate that more materialistic people have lower self-esteem, and that plays a role in their relatively greater distress and poorer coping skills. “Retail therapy,” it seems, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Although buying something new may reduce anxiety right away, the effect is fleeting, and backfires in the long run.