Proponents of simple living and minimalism believe that placing less value on material possessions leads to increased happiness and wellbeing. Indeed, a number of studies have shown that people who value money and possessions over other aims in life report less happiness and more depression. By contrast, only a few studies have shown how changes in materialism relate to changes in wellbeing. Studies exploring ways to discourage materialistic values are also limited.
Professor Tim Kasser and colleagues have published a paper in the journal Motivation and Emotion that uses four studies to demonstrate that wellbeing declines as people become more materialistic. Becoming less materialistic also predicted improvements in wellbeing. These findings were consistent across different time frames (12 years, 2 years and 6 months), samples (adults and adolescents), contexts (the USA and Iceland) and measures of both materialism and wellbeing.
As well as demonstrating that changes in materialism can predict changes in wellbeing, the paper also introduced an intervention to discourage materialism in adolescents. This three-session financial education program was designed to reduce spending and promote both sharing and saving. Topics included advertising and consumer culture, tracking spending behavior, and integrating sharing and saving into a financial plan. Of the 71 adolescents (aged 10 to 17 years) involved in the study, those who were randomly assigned to the education group became less materialistic after participating in the intervention. Notably, adolescents who began with high materialistic values when assigned to the intervention group reported increased self-esteem over time, while those assigned to the no-treatment control group reported decreased self-esteem.
Other studies have also found that boosting adolescents’ self-esteem not only discourages materialistic values, but also eliminates age differences in materialism. These age differences reflect the period between middle childhood and early adolescence when adolescents are more likely to experience low self-esteem and pursue materialistic goals.
Boosting our children’s self-esteem isn’t always easy. As Chaplin & John (2007) note, self-esteem can dip as children enter puberty and move into high school, while materialistic tendencies can strengthen as peers take on greater significance and marketers develop more targeted messages.
However, as demonstrated above, these challenges can be overcome. Taking the time to compliment our children and develop their strengths may not only improve their self-esteem, but guide them towards a less materialistic life and greater wellbeing.
1. Kasser T, Rosenblum KL, Sameroff AJ, et al. Changes in materialism, changes in psychological well-being: Evidence from three longitudinal studies and an intervention experiment. Motivation and Emotion. 2014; 38:1-22.
2. Chaplin LN & John DR. Growing up in Material World: Age differences in materialism in children and adolescents. Journal of Consumer Research. 2007; 34(4):480-493.