A Struggle with Gratitude at the Heart of Materialism, Study Says

We tend to pick on materialists for being grasping, shallow people but it turns out that might not be the case.  According to new research from Baylor University, what drives materialism is a struggle to feel grateful for what one has and the belief that happiness is always just around the corner with the next acquisition, the next accomplishment, the next goal achieved.  People who are better at being grateful can still achieve goals, but they can do so from a position of strength.  They recognize the goodness of what they have and the blessings that the people, and relationships, and yes, the possessions in their life bring.

Gratitude is a positive mood. It’s about other people,” said study lead author Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Previous research that we and others have done finds that people are motivated to help people that help them — and to help others as well. We’re social creatures, and so focusing on others in a positive way is good for our health.” But materialism tends to be “me-centered.” A material outlook focuses on what one does not have, impairing the ability to be grateful for what one already has, researchers said.

“Our ability to adapt to new situations may help explain why ‘more stuff’ doesn’t make us any happier,” said study co-author James Roberts, Ph.D., holder of The Ben H. Williams Professorship in Marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. “As we amass more and more possessions, we don’t get any happier — we simply raise our reference point,” he said. “That new 2,500-square-foot house becomes the baseline for your desires for an even bigger house. It’s called the Treadmill of Consumption. We continue to purchase more and more stuff but we don’t get any closer to happiness, we simply speed up the treadmill.”

Study results were based on an analysis of 246 members of the department of marketing in a mid-sized private university in the southwestern United States, with an average age of 21. They took part in a 15-minute survey using a 15-item scale of materialism. Previous research suggests that materialists, despite the fact they are more likely to achieve material goals, are less satisfied overall with their lives. They are more likely to be unhappy and have lower self-esteem. They also are more likely to be less satisfied with relationships and less involved in community events. Meanwhile, those who are grateful are likely to find more meaning in life, previous research shows.

The study notes that ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus advised, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”  READ MORE

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.


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