Buying happiness

Beyond Brushstrokes
By Marivic Rufino

Posted on November 07, 2011

In the consumer society, everything has a price tag. People are conditioned to want things and to buy things. Children are practically brainwashed by TV and Internet and peer pressure. The subliminal seductive message is that contentment is available -- for a price. “Buy a car. Acquire the new iPad and smartphone. Live in the high rise condo. Wear the latest fashions and accessories. Buy the affluent lifestyle = Happiness.

Satisfaction, the lasting kind, cannot be bought. Buying something new only produces a fleeting “high.” The sensation of novelty wears off quickly. The individual will crave for something new -- over and over again.

Psychological research data gathered from 13 countries (including the USA, Germany, Russia, and India) revealed the following:

1. People who think that affluence is a priority in life tend to experience anxiety, depression, and a low level of well-being.

2. The fear of losing material possessions aggravates the anxiety.

3. People who crave for fame and beauty do not fare well psychologically.

4. Self-aware individuals who try to develop close and meaningful relationships and who serve the community are better adjusted and happier.

Dr. Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester and Dr. Tim Kassler of Knox College, Illinois, conducted the comprehensive survey for several years on the subject. Their published journals paint a bleak portrait of people who value “extrinsic goals” such as wealth, fame, and beauty. Such people feel more depressed than others. They have a pattern of behavioral problems and physical discomfort, and low scores in vitality and self-actualization.

The research data also covered the dark side of “the American dream.” People who are encouraged to “strike it rich” seek satisfaction in material goods. Ironically, the search for wealth is disappointing because the satisfaction is short-lived.

“A preoccupation with money bodes ill regardless of how much money one has,” Dr. Ryan clarified.

Living a life wherein affluence is the focus results in psychological problems.

In the United States and Russia, another survey among 300 young adults showed lower levels of mental health, self-esteem, and well-being occurred in the following:

1. People who wanted to make a lot of money.

2. People who thought they were likely to succeed at it.

3. People who attained the appearance of financial success and popularity.

The college students who aspired for affluence had more transient relationships, watched more television, and were more likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs.

The results raise some important questions about “a culture that thrives on material gain.... It challenges homespun advice to follow one’s dream, whatever it may be. These data suggest strongly that not all goals or dreams are created equal.”

What is psychologically beneficial to an individual is “the pursuit of goals that reflect genuine human needs.” Among these is the desire to feel connected to others and to help others.

“Spending one’s life trying to impress others or to accumulate trendy clothes, fancy gizmos, and the money to keep buying them” is not beneficial to the individual.

Material things are considered a form of compensation for something more meaningful.

The researchers also revealed that young adults who considered financial success very important were “disproportionately likely to have mothers who were not very nurturing.”

Cold and controlling parents produced children who were insecure. These individuals focus on attaining security and a sense of worth from external sources.

The findings coincide with anecdotes of very wealthy men who grew up in troubled homes. The interpretation is that these successful men did not evolve well psychologically. They just became rich.

Unhappy people tend to seek extrinsic goals such as fame and money. tDr. Kassler speculated that the act of chasing these goals reduces one’s sense of well-being and self-worth.

“It makes you ignore the goals that could lead you to have more satisfying experiences.”

Whenever you feel low, in spite of affluence and material things, pause for reflection. Weigh your goals and priorities.

The blue mood could be symptomatic of an essential something that is missing in your life.

Happiness and contentment are not commodities. They cannot be bought-at any price.