Tag Archives: consumerism

On the psychology of materialism, and Christmas

Photo by Ian Muttoo, Creative Commons

Shoppers at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto, Canada Photo by Ian Muttoo via Flickr, Creative Commons

Tim Kasser, an American psychology professor who specializes in materialism and well being, has some thoughts on consumerism, Christmas, and well-being.

 On why materialism is sometimes considered a negative, and affects people differently:

To be materialistic means to have values that put a relatively high priority on making a lot of money and having many possessions, as well as on image and popularity, which are almost always expressed via money and possessions. 

I think materialism is viewed in a negative light because people may have had unpleasant experiences with materialistic people. We know from research that materialism tends to be associated with treating others in more competitive, manipulative and selfish ways, as well as with being less empathetic. Such behavior is usually not appreciated by the average person, although it is encouraged by some aspects of our capitalist economic system. 

Research shows two sets of factors that lead people to have materialistic values. First, people are more materialistic when they are exposed to messages that suggest such pursuits are important, whether through their parents and friends, society, or the media. Second, and somewhat less obvious — people are more materialistic when they feel insecure or threatened, whether because of rejection, economic fears, or thoughts of their own death.

On the impact of media on materialism:

The research shows that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic their values are. That’s probably because both the shows and the ads send messages suggesting that happy, successful people are wealthy, have nice things, and are beautiful and popular. One has to remember that, in the U.S. at least, the vast majority of media are owned by a few for-profit corporations that make money by selling advertising, and the purpose of advertising is to sell products. 

A study I recently published with psychologist Jean Twenge tracked how materialism has changed in U.S. high school seniors over a few decades and connected those changes with national advertising expenditures. We found that the extent to which a given year’s class of high school seniors cared about materialistic pursuits was predictable on the basis of how much of the U.S. economy came from advertising and marketing expenditures — the more that advertising dominated the economy, the more materialistic youth were.

One study of American and Arab youth found that materialism is higher as social media use increases. The findings suggest that, just as television use is associated with more materialism, so is use of social media. That makes sense, since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how the social media companies make a profit.

On extreme materialism and compulsive shopping:

Materialism is about values and desire for money, possessions and the like. Compulsive consumption is when a person feels unable to control the desire to consume, often because she or he is trying to fill some emptiness or overcome anxiety. Materialism and compulsive consumption are related to each other. In a recent meta-analysis of the association between materialism and people’s well-being, we found that the correlation between people’s materialism and the extent they reported problems with compulsive consumption was strong and consistent across many studies.

 While materialism is a risk factor for compulsive consumption, they are not the same thing. Another psychologist, Miriam Tatzel, suggests that some materialists are “loose” with their money and some are “tight.” Both types of people care about having money and possessions, but the loose materialist is going to spend and spend and spend, whereas the tight materialist will be more like Scrooge or Silas Marner, trying to accumulate wealth.

On the bad and good of materialism:

We know from the literature that materialism is associated with lower levels of well-being, less pro-social interpersonal behavior, more ecologically destructive behavior, and worse academic outcomes. It also is associated with more spending problems and debt. From my perspective, all of those are negative outcomes. 

But from the point of view of an economic/social system that relies on spending to drive high levels of profit for companies, economic growth for the nation, and tax revenue for the government, consumption and over-spending related to materialism may be viewed as a positive.

On links between materialism and happiness:

The connection between materialism and well-being is the longest-standing strand of research in the materialism literature. My colleagues at the University of Sussex and I recently published a meta-analysis that showed the negative relationship between materialism and well-being was consistent across all kinds of measures of materialism, types of people, and cultures. We found that the more highly people endorsed materialistic values, the more they experienced unpleasant emotions, depression and anxiety, the more they reported physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches, and the less they experienced pleasant emotions and felt satisfied with their lives. 

The most supported explanation for why well-being is lower when materialism is high concerns psychological needs. Specifically, materialistic values are associated with living one’s life in ways that do a relatively poor job of satisfying psychological needs to feel free, competent, and connected to other people. When people do not have their needs well-satisfied, they report lower levels of well-being and happiness, as well as more distress.

On religion and materialism:

A couple of studies have found that the negative relationship between materialism and well-being is even stronger for people who are religious. This is probably because there is a conflict between materialistic and religious pursuits. That is, research on how people’s values are organized has shown that some goals are easy to simultaneously pursue, but others are in tension or conflict with each other. For example, it is relatively easy to focus on goals for money at the same time one focuses on goals for image and popularity, as those goals all are related and facilitate each other. The research shows there is a tension between materialistic goals and religious pursuits, just as Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Lao Tze and many other religious thinkers have long suggested. It seems that trying to pursue materialistic and spiritual goals causes people conflict and stress, which in turn lowers their well-being.

One study has shown that this plays out during Christmas, too. Psychologist Ken Sheldon and I co-authored a study that found that to the extent people focused their holiday season around materialistic aims like spending and receiving, the less they were focused on spiritual aims. We also found that people reported “merrier” Christmases when spirituality was a large part of their holiday, but reported lower Christmas well-being to the extent that the holiday was dominated by materialistic aspects.

Kasser_2010_millermccune

— Adapted from a Q&A from the American Psychological Association

Tim Kasser is a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, specializing in materialism and well-being. He is the author of The High Price of Materialism, and Psychology and Consumer Culture. A former associate editor of APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Kasser earned his PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester.

 

 

  

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Black-and-Blues Friday

"Buy More Stuff! Confuse Everyone!" People hold signs designed to confuse Black Friday shoppers in Seattle. Photo by John Anderson via Flickr, Creative Commons

“Buy More Stuff! Confuse Everyone!” People hold signs designed to confuse Black Friday shoppers in Seattle. Photo by John Anderson via Flickr, Creative Commons

It seems that “Gray Thursday” is the new name for the fourth Thursday of November each year in the United States.

The name marks the re-purposing of a traditional event — from a communal giving of thanks, to shopping. Shopping for sale items is well on its way to supplanting America’s traditional harvest festival, and Gray Thursday (the day formerly known as Thanksgiving Day) is increasingly recognized as the precursor of Black Friday.

Black Friday, of course, has for the past decade or so been the most busy day of the year for U.S. retailers.

This year, instead of  waiting to open their doors early on Friday to a rush of people sated by feasting a day earlier, many businesses apparently decided to designate the food-and-family ritual thing as a gray area. 

“Best Buy, J. C. Penney and Toys “R” Us opened at 5 p.m., with Target and Macy’s in close pursuit at 6 p.m.,” reported the New York Times. The afternoon timing of those stores allowed shoppers to gobble down a Thanksgiving lunch, at least. But some businesses axed even lunch: Kmart opened this year in the U.S. at 6 a.m. Thursday — perhaps betting that enough people would rather shop than cook and dine with relatives.

Luckily, even the most devoted families and foodies can partake, after their traditional rituals, of seasonal sales, on “Cyber Monday” on the Internet. And even that day has begun to morph, into “Cyber Week.” Said Consumer Reports after last year’s season: “Several of the retailers—including Best Buy, Target, and Walmart — seem to have abandoned Cyber Monday in favor of a full Cyber Week event.”

There is no word on when Gray and Black days and Cyber Weeks will spread into the days still known as Saint Nicholas’s (Dec. 6);  the Buddist Bodhi Day (Dec. 8); the Hindu Pancha Ganapati  (Dec. 21 – 25); Solstice (on about Dec. 21); Christmas (Dec. 25); Kwanzaa (Dec. 26), and the peripatetic Hannukah and Chinese New Year. 

As you contemplate the colour of your day, enjoy Tom Regan*’s response to the shopping frenzy, which made him resort to poetry. Here’s the start of  ‘Twas the Night Before Black Friday:

Tom Regan

Tom Regan

Twas the night before Black Friday, and all through the house

Every creature was stirring, yes even the mouse;

The credit cards were ready for use here and there,

In the hopes that a bargain soon would be theirs … continue reading

Tom Regan* is the author of F&O‘s Summoning Orenda column.

 

 

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, Facts and Opinions performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. We appreciate and need your support: please click here to purchase a $1 day pass, or subscribe.   Sign up in the form to the right, on our blog, to receive a free email subscription to blog posts and notices of new work. Contact us at Editor AT factsandopinions.com.

 

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‘Twas the Night Before Black Friday

"Buy More Stuff! Confuse Everyone!" People hold signs designed to confuse Black Friday shoppers in Seattle. Photo by John Anderson via Flickr, Creative Commons

“Buy More Stuff! Confuse Everyone!” People hold signs designed to confuse Black Friday shoppers in Seattle, 2010. Photo by John Anderson via Flickr, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN (with help from my family) 
November, 2014  

‘Twas the night before Black Friday, and all through the house

Every creature was stirring, yes even the mouse;

The credit cards were ready for use here and there,

In the hopes that a bargain soon would be theirs.

The turkey was eaten, and all had been fed;

And football was over when Poppa then said:

“It’s time to get ready, so check all your apps,

We’re hunting for bargains, so let’s not be saps.

It’s an hour before midnight, so stop all your chatter,

Where we start shopping does not really matter.”

Away to the mall we flew in a flash,

Our flyers in hand, we had quite a stash.

And nothing could stop us, not even the snow,

For Black Friday shopping we were determined to go.

Because saving a dollar off a 100 was clear,

As Americans saving a buck was quite dear.

When our daughter, who sometimes could really be thick.

Said out loud to us all, “I think you’re all sick.

The mall is so crowded, everyone is so lame,

This Black Friday shopping is one stupid game

First Best Buy, then Target, now Walmart and Sears

By all that is holy, by all we hold dear

Why must we do this? Race around like daft rats

The pushing, the shoving, I feel I’m smashed flat.”

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly

I thought that my anger would mount to the sky

“By all we hold holy? By all we hold dear?

I’ve told you before that there’s nothing to fear!

Black Friday shopping is as American as can be

Finding the best bargains shall fill us with glee!.

So the crowds are all crazy, so they all want to fight

To get the last Xbox, or Game Boy, such delights!

The 72-inch TV – how it twinkles! The iPhone, how merry.

The Android was great, the Nintendo (for Larry),

Christmas is coming, with presents galore,

but get in my way, and you’ll soon find the floor

‘Cause when I see a bargain I’ll grab right away

And I really don’t care what I have to pay

Because what’s important, amid all the fuss

Just get the bargain and the adrenaline rush

Christmas spirit on steroids! That’s what this night’s for,

Not just one bargain, but more, more, more, MORE!

It’s just like a drug, all shiny and bright

And that drug keeps you going all through the night.”

My daughter just groaned, and then looked away

Got out of the car and went her own way.

But I heard her exclaim, as she walked out of sight.

“Black Friday’s a nightmare, and I ain’t gonna bite.”

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2014

Contact Tom Regan::  motnager@gmail.com

 

Tom HeadshotTom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board in Canada, and for the Christian Science MonitorNational Public Radio, and Boston Globe in the United States.

The former executive director of the Online News Association, he was  a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, Facts and Opinions performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. We appreciate and need your support: please click here to purchase a $1 day pass, or subscribe.   Sign up using the form on the right side of our Frontlines blog to receive posts by email. Contact us at Editor AT factsandopinions.com.

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