New studies show Materialism hurts

Dr. Jo-Ann Tsang
Dr. Jo-Ann Tsang
Dr. Jo-Ann Tsang

By Rae Jefferson
Staff Writer

If gratitude only makes an appearance once a year over a steaming plate of turkey and stuffing, something may be way off, a recent Baylor study found.

“Why are materialists less happy? The role of gratitude and need satisfaction in the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction” is a study lead by Dr. Jo-Ann Tsang, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor. The study looked at the correlations between gratitude, materialism and happiness and found that gratitude helps lead to a happier life.

“Materialism is related to less life satisfaction and gratitude is related to more life satisfaction,” Tsang said.

The study began in 2012 and was published in February 2014. Tsang said 246 undergraduate marketing students participated in the study and were required to complete a 15-minute online survey that assessed patterns in materialism and happiness levels.

According to the study, life satisfaction is negatively impacted by materialism because materialist people tend to neglect important psychological needs. These needs, also called need-satisfaction, include innate human needs like belonging to social groups, making decisions autonomously and being competent.

“By making life satisfaction contingent on the acquisition of material possessions, materialists may be likely to neglect other important needs, fostering dissatisfaction with life,” the study said.

Dr. James Roberts, the Ben H. Williams professor of marketing and study co-author, said the study was of particular interest to him because of his 15-year-long history of studying gratitude and materialism.

“It’s a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart,” Roberts said.

Materialists tend to struggle more with greed, selfishness and an inability to make deep connections with others, Roberts said.

According to the study, materialists may be less happy because they focus on the things they do not possess, which creates feelings of longing for more possessions and an overwhelming dissatisfaction with life.

Tsang said she speculates that many Americans tend to believe a lie that having more will lead to increased life satisfaction.

“We get a lot of that from our society,” she said. “People want to try and sell you stuff, so they tell you it will make you happy so that you buy it.”

Roberts said he agreed that Americans have falsely begun to think wealth equates to happiness.

“That’s just not the case,” Roberts said. “Helping others and having healthy relationships makes us happier. Nothing’s wrong with money — we need money — but it’s when we get out of balance that it leads to lower life satisfaction.”

The study has very practical implications, Roberts said. Learning how to foster a life filled with gratitude can help people to become happier and more fully satisfied.

“Gratitude is a good way to appreciate what we have and the role other people have in our lives,” he said. “We can increase life satisfaction with gratitude.”