“Living in a Material World:” Materialistic People More Likely to be Depressed?

by: Danling Chen 

We’ve all heard Madonna’s famous and catchy eighties single “Material Girl” with a tongue-in-cheek declaration of herself as a material girl. Most of us would agree that in today’s consumerist society, we are indeed “living in a material world.”  While stores are churning out the latest high-priced products, and advertisements plastered across every medium are screaming out for our attention, we are rapidly amassing material possessions. But do they actually make our lives any better? A recent study conducted at Baylor University, and published in Personality and Individual Differences, points to the very opposite; researchers found that individuals who were more materialistic had lower levels of life satisfaction, and were more likely to be depressed. 

Researchers from the aforementioned study surveyed 246 undergraduate marketing students and measured their levels of materialism, gratitude, need satisfaction, and general life satisfaction. They found that individuals who scored the most materialistic were also the least grateful, the least satisfied, and the most depressed. To explain these findings, the research team theorized that materialistic people were more “me-centered.” Instead of devoting their time and energy to helping others, materialists concentrate more on physical rewards and helping themselves. They are are more likely to fixate on what they do not have, such as newer and more expensive products, instead of being grateful for what they do have, such as their career or their family. And even as they amass more material possessions, materialists never feel satisfied because their shiny new toy eventually becomes the baseline for a newer shinier toy.

What conclusions can we draw from these findings?

For one, material possessions don’t lead to happiness. A newer computer, a bigger house, or a fancier handbag may make us happy for a moment–until we feel covetous and depressed again. Instead, we should strive to feel grateful for our current situation, because through gratitude can we live a much more satisfying life. And as the lead study author Jo-Ann Tsang explains, “gratitude is a positive mood about other people rather than ourselves.” When we help those around us, we reap the rewards of positive philanthropic interactions. By doing this, we end up feeling greater life satisfaction, feeling less depressed, and making others happier too.



Whiteman, H. (2014, April 5). “Materialistic people ‘more likely to be depressed and unsatisfied’.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275044.

Why are materialists less happy? The role of gratitude and need satisfaction in the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction, Jo-Ann Tsang at al., published in Personality and Individual Differences, April 2014. Baylor University, accessed 20 April 2014.


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