'Less Is More' Attitude May Make Materialists Happier Over Long Run

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Why the “less is more” approach holds the key to happiness for everyone, especially materialists. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

We always want what we can’t have, and when we do have it, we want more. It's human nature to feel dissatisfied with our current level of achievement when it comes to life goals, but this sense of urgency, especially for material items, can be detrimental. According to a recent study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, practicing the mantra “less is more” can actually lead to happiness and overall life satisfaction.

Materialists tend to have more stuff than most of us, and probably stuff we want, but we have something they want: happiness. It seems the more and more we amass possessions, the less happy we become, because we simply raise our reference point. For example, if we move into a bigger house, it only becomes the base for our desire to move into an even bigger home. We begin to enter a vicious cycle of purchasing more stuff, but still don’t get closer to happiness.

James Roberts, author of the study from Baylor University, and his colleagues sought to explore the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction, and to see if anything could moderate it to make materialistic people more satisfied with what they have. A total of 249 college students were sent questionnaires as part of the study. The students answered questions that indicated their levels of materialism, gratitude, life satisfaction, and overall satisfaction.

Unsurprisingly, the findings revealed people who pursue happiness through material gain tend to feel worse, which is related to negative appraisals of their satisfaction with life. However, an attitude of gratitude acted as a buffer to the negative effects of materialism, making more grateful individuals more satisfied with their lives. The research team observed: "Individuals high in gratitude showed less of a relationship between materialism and negative affect. Additionally, individuals high in materialism showed decreased life satisfaction when either gratitude or positive affect was low," according to the press release.

This suggests gratitude could be the missing piece of the puzzle in the relationship between materialism and dissatisfaction with life. Also, being materialistic can be a positive experience if the materialist keeps a positive outlook in life. "Specifically, individuals who are able to appreciate what they have even while engaging in materialistic pursuits might be able to be maintain high levels of life satisfaction," the researchers wrote.

A 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science has proven the power of gratitude and its valuable use in everyday life. Gratitude can reduce costly impatience, especially in the context of instant gratification. That is, an attitude of gratitude can power down emotions that may lead to irrational impulses for immediate gain, such as financial impatience.

Gratitude is an emotion that can foster self-control and help us make well-informed and rational life decisions.

So keep an attitude of gratitude to stay on the path of happiness.

Sources: Roberts JA, Manolis C, Tsang J. Looking for happiness in all the wrong places: The moderating role of gratitude and affect in the materialism–life satisfaction relationship. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2015.

DeSteno D, Dickens L, Lerner JS, and Li Y. Gratitude: A Tool for Reducing Economic Impatience. Psychological Science. 2014.

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