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Professor Kasser on Materialism and the Holidays

Knox Psychology Professor Tim Kasser, an expert on well-being, discusses materialism and the holiday season.

Knox College Psychology Professor Tim Kasser, an expert on materialism and well-being, has been featured frequently in the news during the 2014 holiday season.

Author of The High Price of Materialism, as well as other books and journal articles, Kasser has been quoted in numerous publications. They include the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, and Huffington Post.

Kasser says people can avoid the "consumerist frenzy" often associated with this time of year -- and enhance their own happiness and well-being -- by focusing on "what's really core to the holiday," such as spending time with family.

The American Psychological Association (APA) also published an interview with Kasser, "What Psychology Says About Materialism and the Holidays."

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

APA: What does psychological research say about materialism's link to happiness?

Dr. Kasser: The connection between materialism and well-being is the longest-standing strand of research in the materialism literature. My colleagues at the University of Sussex and I recently published a meta-analysis that showed the negative relationship between materialism and well-being was consistent across all kinds of measures of materialism, types of people, and cultures. We found that the more highly people endorsed materialistic values, the more they experienced unpleasant emotions, depression and anxiety, the more they reported physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches, and the less they experienced pleasant emotions and felt satisfied with their lives.

The most supported explanation for why well-being is lower when materialism is high concerns psychological needs. Specifically, materialistic values are associated with living one's life in ways that do a relatively poor job of satisfying psychological needs to feel free, competent, and connected to other people. When people do not have their needs well-satisfied, they report lower levels of well-being and happiness, as well as more distress.

APA: How does religious faith affect materialism, particularly during the holiday season?

Dr. Kasser: A couple of studies have found that the negative relationship between materialism and well-being is even stronger for people who are religious. This is probably because there is a conflict between materialistic and religious pursuits. That is, research on how people's values are organized has shown that some goals are easy to simultaneously pursue, but others are in tension or conflict with each other. For example, it is relatively easy to focus on goals for money at the same time one focuses on goals for image and popularity, as those goals all are related and facilitate each other. The research shows there is a tension between materialistic goals and religious pursuits, just as Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Lao Tze and many other religious thinkers have long suggested. It seems that trying to pursue materialistic and spiritual goals causes people conflict and stress, which in turn lowers their well-being.

One study has shown that this plays out during Christmas, too. Psychologist Ken Sheldon and I co-authored a study that found that to the extent people focused their holiday season around materialistic aims like spending and receiving, the less they were focused on spiritual aims. We also found that people reported "merrier" Christmases when spirituality was a large part of their holiday, but reported lower Christmas well-being to the extent that the holiday was dominated by materialistic aspects.

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Printed on Sunday, July 14, 2024