The material world certainly tugs at us as we approach the holidays. The emphasis on gift-giving can especially assume center stage, causing a flurry of purchasing as Christmas draws near. While the giving and receiving of presents can be fun and affirming of our connection with others, it can also become stressful when it manifests as materialism.
Materialism is defined by 1) the centrality of acquiring material possessions in one’s life, as well as 2) the pursuit of happiness through the pursuit of material possessions, and lastly, 3) the use of these acquisitions to define one’s success. Materialism has been found in many studies to be associated with life dissatisfaction.
Several years ago a group of researchers explored the components underlying this relationship between materialism and dissatisfaction (Roberts, Tsang and Manolis 2015). If we’re trying to feel happy and successful with our belongings, how is it that we end up feeling the opposite?
In their study they found a third variable that came in-between material possessions and dissatisfaction – namely negative affect. Those people demonstrating high materialism tend to also experience more negative feelings. More negative emotion is associated with lower life satisfaction. In other words, we’re not likely to be feeling all that happy and successful as we try to accumulate more material objects in the service of feeling happy and successful!
The upshot? Well, the researchers also found that, when people exhibit high levels of gratitude, the negative feelings associated with materialism tend to abate and even reverse. Simply put, feeling grateful for what you have buffers against the negative effects of materialism.
But it may be better to disengage with materialism altogether (rather than try to mitigate it with gratitude). The researchers found that it takes high levels of gratitude and positive affect to prevent the negative effects of materialism on life satisfaction.
So why not subtract materialism from the equation altogether? We can allow ourselves easy access to satisfaction during the holidays by not wedding our happiness to undue focus on the self and it’s acquisition of material objects.
Do you know about Alternative Gifts International? They are a non-profit organization that enables people to give gifts to those they care about, monetary gifts that help in the solving of humanitarian and environmental issues.
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