How has consumerism affected the way we think?
In my previous research round, I discussed the definition of consumerism and provided a somewhat brief history of its meteoric rise in our modern world. In this research round, I will be touching on how this new, widespread economic ideology has shaped the way we think and view ourselves and others.
Arguments for and against consumerism are quite common. While some are against the idea of “paralleling one’s happiness with materialistic possessions and consumptions” and believe that doing so shifts our human experience even further away from nature, others find that consumerism can help remove people from hard menial or dull work, find purpose in living, and create connections within a shared consumer culture. However, this shift in the reason for life has caused many in the overall population to begin to increase the value they place in consumption at the cost of human interaction. In turn, consumers end up in a loop of dissatisfaction, as new products are released at such a high speed [2, 4]. But why is this so?
The paradox of constantly buying the newest and shiniest items yet still feeling as unsatisfied as someone who doesn’t have the means to do so is very intriguing. While we still don’t know if consumerism stokes unhappiness, unhappiness fuels consumerism, or both, psychologists have found that the practice may negatively impact happiness by taking time away from healthy relationships (i.e. family and friends). In other words, individuals with strong consumerist values will have “goal orientations that may lead to poorer well-being”. A fantastic example of this is a parent who outsources parental duties (ex. driving their children to school) in order to amass more wealth to purchase consumer goods .
When surveyed, consumer-focused people tended to report increased levels of unhappiness in relationships, poorer moods and a higher number of psychological problems. Experts in the field point out that this discrepancy may stem from a higher focus on extrinsic goals, which include material possessions, image, status, rewards, and praise, instead of intrinsic goals, which include personal growth, community connection, and personal acceptance . This also ties into issues of self-esteem which can arise due to materialistic and consumeristic values. This is especially prevalent among teenagers, particularly ones from low-income households .
Overall, the pursuit of material goods is neither good nor bad. However, placing too much importance place on acquiring these goods can lead to dangerous consequences in your social life, relationships, and overall happiness. The true goal is balance. If your desire for material goods does not interfere with your familial and community relationships, as well as your self-esteem, consumerism may actually be a net positive for your mental well-being. But if you find yourself becoming depressed and hyper-fixated on materialistic goals or consistently find yourself unsatisfied, even with every new product you purchase, your pursuit may be harming you. In my next research round, I will touch on the environmental effects of consumerism. This will allow us to educate ourselves on the environmental impacts that have been directly and indirectly caused by consumerism, and how it affects climate change, one of the most important issues plaguing our modern world.