Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Findings

generic-happiness

(Photo: szefei/Shutterstock)

Recipe for a Happy Life: Less Materialism, More Gratitude

• March 14, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: szefei/Shutterstock)

New research finds materialistic people are less happy in large part because of their lack of gratitude.

Picture the most materialistic people you know. They don’t seem very happy, do they? They certainly have more stuff than most of us, and we’re constantly bombarded with messages that equate stuff with bliss. So what’s missing from their lives?

Newly published research suggests a clear answer: Gratitude.

“High materialists are less happy in part because they find it harder to be grateful for what they have,” writes a research team led by Baylor University psychologist Jo-Ann Tsang. The researchers argue that, because of this low level of gratitude, “basic psychological needs (which allow) individuals to thrive” go largely unmet.

It only makes sense that “a materialistic outlook, which looks for satisfaction in what one does not have, would impair the ability to be grateful for what one has now.”

In the journal Personality and Individual Difference, Tsang and her colleagues describe a study in which 246 college students took a multifaceted survey. First, their level of materialism was measured by their response (on a scale of “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree’) to such statements as “My life would be better if I owned certain things I don’t have.”

Their dispositional gratitude and overall life satisfaction were determined by their reaction to two more sets of statements, such as “I have so much in life to be thankful for.”

In addition, the researchers measured the extent to which the participants’ basic psychological needs—specifically, relatedness, competence, and autonomy—were being met. Again using a scale of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree,” the students responded to statements including “I felt a sense of contact with people who care for me, and whom I care for.”

“As in past research, we found that materialism was negatively associated with well-being,” the researchers write. Then, breaking new ground, they add that their results suggest one major reason for this is likely “the decreased gratitude that high materialists experience, and the resultant decreases in basic psychological needs.”

There are several theories regarding why materialistic people feel less gratitude. As the researchers note, it only makes sense that “a materialistic outlook, which looks for satisfaction in what one does not have, would impair the ability to be grateful for what one has now.”

Such people can get caught in a negative spiral in which they have unrealistic expectations of how happy material goods will make them. When their experience falls short of those expectations, their instinct is to seek out something new to purchase, putting them in an endless loop of anticipation and disappointment that does not leave room for gratitude.

And that, the researchers add, is a big loss. “Gratitude seems to confer robust benefits for well-being,” Tsang and her colleagues write. They argue that gratitude is very likely related to feelings of competence and autonomy, and is definitely related to a sense of social connectedness.

The research “suggests a number of potential intervention points for increasing life satisfaction in individuals who are high in materialism,” the most obvious one being encouraging feelings of gratitude, perhaps by keeping a “gratitude diary.”

But however one goes about it, the key seems to be a willingness and ability to shift one’s focus from fretting about what they desire “to savoring and appreciating what they do have.”

Or as Matthew McConaughey put it at during his recent acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, it is “a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates.”

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.