January 15, 2013
Happiness Lies In Wanting, Not Having
Jedidiah Becker for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
According to a new research report, it turns out that money really can buy happiness after all. Sort of.
“Thinking about acquisition provides momentary happiness boosts to materialistic people, and because they tend to think about acquisition a lot, such thoughts have the potential to provide frequent mood boosts,” explains Marsha L. Richins, lead author of the study and the Myron Watkins Distinguished Professor of Marketing at the University of Missouri.
The problem, however, is that the little product-driven mood boosts provided by these thoughts have a very short shelf-life. “The positive emotions associated with acquisition are short-lived,” continued Richins. “Although materialists still experience positive emotions after making a purchase, these emotions are less intense than before they actually acquire a product.”
Unsurprisingly, these fleeting emotional 'highs' have an addictive quality, leading highly materialistic individuals to buy more than other consumers and go deeper into debt while doing so. The question then becomes: Is it worth it? While everybody enjoys getting new toys, are materialistic people generally happier than their more ascetically inclined counterparts?
The short answer is, well, complicated.
In three separate studies, the researchers observed that materialists reported having significantly stronger positive emotions when they thought about their upcoming purchases. Interestingly, this held true for both big-ticket items like cars and houses as well as for modest purchases like clothing and electronics. And those positive emotions were present regardless of whether they were planning to make their purchase in the near future (a few weeks) or distant future (up to a year).
Additionally, highly materialistic individuals tended to believe that buying products would “transform their lives in meaningful ways,” reported the researchers. For these individuals, this faith in the positive transformative powers of new purchases extended to things like relationships with other people, their own sense of self worth, their general sense of pleasure and contentment with life, and their ability to successfully carry out important life tasks.
The team also noted that intensity of the emotional boosts associated with the product purchases were directly related to the extent of the life transformation that the materialists expected to get from it. For instance, a new kitchen tool that they expected would make cooking easier might create a modest increase in happiness, while the purchase of a new house might be accompanied by a surge of ecstatic emotions.
However, for these people there is a very clear long-term downside to the drug-like effects of shopping, explained the research team.
“Materialists are more likely to overspend and have credit problems, possibly because they believe that acquisitions will increase their happiness and change their lives in meaningful ways. Learning that acquisition is less pleasurable than anticipating a purchase may help them delay purchases until they are better able to afford them,” the author concludes.
The Journal of Consumer Research is an interdisciplinary academic publication of the prestigious University of Chicago Press and was founded in 1974 to explore consumer behavior in fields like psychology, marketing, economics, anthropology and sociology.