An empirical evaluation of materialism

What about the pursuit of things? Treating yourself to coveted material goods is guaranteed to make you happy, right?

In three separate studies, Marsha Richins of the University of Missouri scored consumers as rating either “high” or low” for materialism, and then evaluated their emotional state before and after making an “important purchase.”

In each study, the reigning materialists anticipated future purchases with strong, positive emotions, much more so than other consumers. Joy, excitement, optimism, and even peacefulness coursed through them regardless of whether they were thinking about buying a house or a toaster, next week or next year.

The materialists were also more likely “to believe that an upcoming purchase would transform their lives in important and meaningful ways.” They had faith in their upcoming acquisition’s power to improve their relationships, boost their self-esteem, enable them to experience more pleasure, and, of course, be more efficient. The intensity with which they felt the positive emotions was directly related to just how transformative they expected those transformations to be.

But after the purchase was made, and the materialists inevitably adapted to life in possession of said coveted item, what followed was a “hedonic decline,” in which their happy feelings dissipated.

Although “materialists’ perceptions that acquisition brings them happiness appear to have some basis in reality,” that happiness is short-lived, Richins concluded. As such, “The state of anticipating and desiring a product may be inherently more pleasurable than product ownership itself.”

 

 

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