What makes people materialistic? Is it due to someone’s upbringing, personality or a trigger in adult life? Theories abound that materialism begins in childhood and is often related to low self esteem. Research carried out by Psychologists Lan Nguyen Chaplin and Deborah Roedder John indicate that those children that are lower in confidence and don’t like themselves as much as children with high self esteem, tend to want more material things in life. Thankfully, this attitude can be reversed by increasing self esteem and helping people to like themselves more.
Children should be taught to value themselves for who they are, not for what they own. Society encourages possessions and we judge others by what they own, where they live and the car they drive. It is part of our cognitive ‘shortcutting’ process to categorise others and make sense of the world around us. We tend to value and respect those that seem successful more than those that struggle financially. Of course, this is distorted thinking but it shows that we all have the propensity to judge a person, not by their character but by their success and status.
We can be side tracked by external riches and forget to consider the character of the person. According to leaf Van Boven,Â co-director of the Center for Applied Social Psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder, “The bad news is that the most materialistic people really suffer in many aspects of their life. Theyâ€™re less happy, theyâ€™re less liked, and theyâ€™re more likely to be diagnosed with psychological disorders. Itâ€™s really not a very productive mindset”.
As they lack the inner self love, they use possessions to create favour with peers and their popularity is therefore dependent on external sources rather than from being generated from within. This means that the moment a newer model of their latest sports cars is on the market, the external source of self esteem diminishes. It is a short lived way to feel good about yourself.
Some parents think it is a good idea to pay their children to get good grades at school. What this effectively does though is remove the child’s internal motivation to learn and improve themselves.Â Over time, a childâ€™s natural curiosity and enjoyment of learning Â start to take a back seat to the pursuit of financial reward. It may get the result required initially but the process is flawed and once the financial reward is removed there is no incentive left.
Of course, in defense of materialism, it can provide freedom of choice and living in poverty is an extremely stressful experience. It seems though, that after a certain point, money has less impact. Once we have enough food on the table, a home to live in and enough money to provide for those little extras, we tend not to be that much happier with a Â lot more money.
Easterlin famously wrote that people in poorer countries were happier once they could afford basic necessities. A follow-up study by London School of Economics professor Richard LayardÂ concluded that above approximately Â£15,000 per person, â€œhigher average income is no guarantee of greater happiness.â€
So perhaps the moral of the story is: Rather than focusing on how much weâ€™ve got, we should think more carefully about what we do with what weâ€™ve got. This might mean indulging less, and possibly, Â giving others the opportunity to indulge instead. Spreading wealth and using it for good purposes and for experiences seems to be the best way to go.