How Materialistic Aims Influence Psychological Well-Being


Kasser and colleagues (2013) state that often materialistic goals and values are prioritized in contemporary industrialized countries. As a result, money, wealth and possessions are valued relatively more than the fulfilment of psychological needs.

Indeed, an insufficient satisfaction of psychological needs have been found to reduce well-being over time (Kasser et al., 2013). Therefore, prioritizing materialistic goals is associated with costs for people’s psychological well-being.

For example, people who prioritize materialistic goals, relative to other aims in life, have been found to score lower on the following outcomes: self-esteem, life satisfaction, happiness, vitality, and self-actualization.

At the same time, they have been found to score higher on outcomes such as depression, anxiety, behavior disorders, and different types of psychopathology:

“Indeed, an on-going meta-analysis of over 200 independent samples revealed that the negative association between materialism and well-being is robust across different operationalizations of the constructs and across different personal and cultural characteristics.” (p. 2).

Other longitudinal studies have indicated that extrinsic goals such as the need for popularity and image, in addition to money and possessions, are associated with changes in psychological well-being as well. This is probably because extrinsic goals do not promote a sufficient satisfaction of psychological needs in the long-term (Kasser et al., 2013).

The authors emphasize: If the environment promotes and suggests that wealth and possessions are important life goals, then people tend to place relatively more importance on such materialistic outcomes.

For this reason, if one needs to increase one’s psychological well-being, it is necessary to promote views that are opposite to the goals of materialism.

Cross-cultural studies have shown that intrinsic goals (e.g., personal growth, freedom, relationships) and self-transcendent values contribute to higher levels of need satisfaction and well-being.

Prioritizing intrinsic aims may even suppress the degree to which we prioritize materialistic aims, since these aims seem to contradict each other.

Image: Paul Hocksenar

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