Pieters (2013) did a longitudinal study of more than 2,500 consumers over a period of six years. The author wanted to identify the association between materialism and loneliness.
It is a common held belief that there is a vicious cycle in which loneliness leads to materialism, and that materialism contributes to loneliness. However, this new study shows that this is not always case.
A lifestyle of happy hedonism (i.e., shopping for pleasure) may not be detrimental to consumer well-being. Indeed, the study shows that materialism can lead to loneliness, but it can also lead to decreases in loneliness. It depends on the type of shopping behavior.
For example, if participants considered material possession to be a way to gain success, their loneliness increased over time. In contrast, if participants considered shopping to be for the joy and fun of consumption, loneliness decreased over time.
Singles were generally found to be more lonely, and for this reason, they used shopping to feel better (what the author calls “material medicine”). Men viewed possessions as a measure of success and material medicine more frequently than women did.
Women liked to view possessions as a source of pleasure (what the authors calls “material mirth”). In other words, men may use shopping as a way to “show off” success, while women are more likely to use shopping as a way to experience pleasure and comfort, the study shows.
In closing, materialism can lead to increased loneliness in people who seek meaning and status through possessions, but it can also benefit the ones who buy stuff for the mere pleasure and comfort. It is not necessarily a vicious cycle.