Personal Values in Regards to Materialism and Wellbeing

Materialism is a focal aspect of societies globally and has been lately described as a moral base of modern management thinking. In the U.S., as an example, the aspirational and human assessing value of materialism is being constantly reinforced by the government, corporations, media and families. Nevertheless, there is a growing body of research which has been documenting the negative relationship between materialism, described as the placement of a high value on salary and material possessions and forms of personal wellbeing (PWB). Recent studies have shown that high materialistic values correlate with lower scores of happiness, mental health, satisfaction indicators while also being at a higher risk of substance abuse. A justification for the reason why materialistic individuals experience lower PWB, is that placing the pursuit of material wealth as an essential building block of their value structure, counteracts with the intrinsic needs for PBW fulfilment.

Psychological value framework on the assessment of wellbeing Kasser (2002), argues in fact, that individuals who centre their attention on extrinsic ideals such as fame, economical success and corporeal appearance, rather than intrinsic values such as growth and attachment, are detrimentally affected. This effect is explained by the fact that extrinsic goals relay to extreme interpersonal comparison and low self-esteem, which all lead to negative PWB. Moreover, individuals who focus on extrinsic values have been reported to engage less frequently in activities which aim at satisfying the psychological needs of competence, autonomy and membership , which are vital elements for ones PWB. In line with this theories, Kasser and Ahuvia (2002) found that amongst a sample of business students from Singapore, extrinsic values harmfully impacted self-actualisation, energy levels and overall happiness, while they tended to report disquiet and bodily grievance. Similarly a study by Srivastava, Locke, and Barthol (2001) revealed analogous results analysing a group of entrepreneurs and business students. This, shows how focusing on financial success destabilizes well-being, augments the risk of abusing substances and is positive associated with agony.

Materialism has been generally perceived as an important life value (Kasser and Ryan 1993; Mick 1996; Richins and Dawson 1992). As stipulated by Rokeach (1968, p. 161), a value is “a centrally held, enduring belief which guides actions and judgments across specific situations and beyond immediate goals to more ultimate end-states of existence.” For instance, materialism can be seen as the value a consumer gives on the purchase and ownership of material objects. Therefore, a characteristic of highly materialistic beings is the belief that PWB can be improved through one’s relationship with material items. Individuals, on the other hand, which value the environment and sustainability tend to focus less on material possessions and have higher intrinsic values. This, because they attribute less value and attachment to objects and do not find consolation in the retail therapy. Moreover, less materialistic individuals, who have been reported to have higher intrinsic values, have less interest in social comparison and social anxiety, therefore they do not seek constant novelty to reinvent themselves in to find a credible place in society (Jackson, 2017). In fact, Dawson (1988) proposes the link between materialism and negative satisfaction regarding finances and career achievements while showing a more positively relation to social anxiety, addiction, and self-criticism.

Initial evidence of the relationship between PWB and materialism was elaborated by Belk (1984) who correlated materialism with undesirable characteristics as envy, nongenerosity and greed, which all have been shown to have detrimental effects on life satisfaction and overall happiness. In 1992, Richins and Dawson, compared their Material Values Scale and a set of values collected from Kahle’s List of Values (LOV) scale. Their research demonstrated that people with elevated levels of material principles are more prone to list economic stability and less likely to record relationships with others as significant ideals. On the other hand, individuals who focus on the environment and have sustainability values seem to be more engaged in developing valuable human relationships and have altruistic behaviours which lead to overall happier populations (Jackson, 2017). Humanistic theories of self-actualisation (Maslow 1954; Kasser and Ryan,1993) support the premise that extrinsic goals, such as financial success aspiration, are less effective compared to intrinsic goals of affiliation in reaching self-actualisation and the need of spontaneity, creativity and lack of prejudice and personal growth. Research from Kasser and Ryan (1993) suggest in fact that individuals who seek economic accomplishment have lower vitality and higher levels of depression and physiological disorders. This internal dissonance and struggle of prioritising and aligning life values can be summarised by value theorists who conceptualise that “beliefs and values do not exist as sharply separated and unconnected elements; they coexist in an interconnected hierarchical structure.” (Vinson et al., 1977, p.46). They argue how individual values can only be wholly comprehended when placed into a larger value system.

A comprehensive and simple model was elaborated by Schwartz’ research (1992) on a set of basic human values. Schwartz identified ten general value types (i.e., power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, universalism, benevolence, tradition, conformity, and security) and arranged them in a circumplex model in a two dimensional circular structure oriented by two axes. The position of materialism in the model is significant due to the way in which the ten ideals relate each other. For instance, values located next to one another are corresponding, while values located opposite are competing.


As Schwartz (1994, p. 23) remarks, “the pursuit of each type of values [has] psychological, practical, and social consequences that may conflict or may be compatible with the pursuit of other value types.” The model suggests how intrinsic values, identified by Schwartz (1994) as self-transcendence values (such as benevolence and universalism) do compete with self-enhancement values which pose critical attention to values such as hedonism and power associated with greed and selfishness, which lead to substantial psychological tension. The theory that human being who embrace oppositional values are likely to experience value conflict in the form of psychological tension has been proposed by other researchers. For instance, Rokeach and Ball-Rokeach (1989) argue that inconsistencies in one’s value system diminishes self-satisfaction and motivate people to realign their values. Similarly, Sheldon and Kasser (1995, p. 531) discovered that PWB is optimal when “the different aspects of personality are integrated into a relatively harmonious whole.”

In conclusion, it can be argued that acquisitiveness may be regarded as a group of beliefs and values rather than a simple want for money and material wealth. Addressing this vast sets of beliefs and values is essential in order to suggest a more comprehensive understanding of the construct of materialism and its relationship with wellbeing.

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This is an incredibly fascinating piece, thanks so much for this valuable contribution.

What do you draw from this regarding people’s engaged with environmentally issues? That greed is negative for us and the environment, and our well-being is at stake on two accounts?

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Thank you for your appreciation.

The findings let emerge how we are at the mercy of social comparison. Institutions are given over to the pursuit of consumerism. The novelty and status seeking consumer forms economic growth. But this, restlessness of constant growth, comparison and consumption - spread by our growth based economic system- is undermining the wellbeing of individuals. This social anxiety is motivated by the empty self that seeks to be situated favourably in society. This creative detruction is created by the fear of being left behind in the competition of consumer markets. It’s an anxious system. The constant pursuit of novelty, for individuals to be accepted by society, is undermining our wellbeing. The question then appears to be : are we serving the system or is the system serving us?