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Rodeo Drive "Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need."

~From the movie Fight Club, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

A Galaxy classic...with a recession going full force, we thought this feature might help ease the pain.

Researchers have found that low self-esteem and materialism are not just a correlation, but also a causal relationship where low self-esteem increases materialism, and materialism can also create low self-esteem. The also found that as self-esteem increases, materialism decreases. The study primarily focused on how this relationship affects children and adolescents. Lan Nguyen Chaplin (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Deborah Roedder John (University of Minnesota) found that even a simple gesture to raise self-esteem dramatically decreased materialism, which provides a way to cope with insecurity.

"By the time children reach early adolescence, and experience a decline in self-esteem, the stage is set for the use of material possessions as a coping strategy for feelings of low self-worth," they write in the study, which will appear in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The paradox that findings such as these bring up, is that consumerism is good for the economy but bad for the individual. In the short run, it's good for the economy when young people believe they need to buy an entirely new wardrobe every year, for example. But the hidden cost is much higher than the dollar amount. There are costs in happiness when people believe that their value is extrinsic. There are also environmental costs associated with widespread materialism.

In the book "Happiness: Lessons From a New Science", Richard Layard exposes a paradox at the heart of our lives. Most of us want more income so we can consume more. Yet as societies become richer, they do not become happier. In fact, the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago. This paradox is true of Britain, the United States, continental Europe and Japan.

Statistically people have more things than they did 50 years ago, but they are actually less happy in several key areas. There is also the considerable cost of what materialism does to the environment. We don't yet know what final toll that could take in terms of quality of life and overall happiness. What many people don't understand is that if we want to save the environment then at some level we have to buy and consume less. We don't need to buy so much bottled water, for example. Studies have shown it's usually not any purer than city tap water, which doesn't leave mountains of plastic bottles strewn across the nations landfills. It also wastes energy and resources to make those plastic bottles and the many other unnecessary things that both youth and adults alike believe they need to have in order to enjoy life and feel good about themselves.

Mad Magazine summed it up with the statement, "The only reason a great many American families don't own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments."

That funny statement, is only funny because it's somewhat true. The reason people want whatever is currently "hot" is because they believe it will contribute towards their satisfaction and happiness in life. The word "believe" is the key here. People believe that buying more and more things will make them happy, when in fact research has shown time and time again that this simply isn't the case. What we do know for sure is that buying more and more unnecessary things is damaging our planet and contributing to global warming.

Sure, one person being less materialistic isn't going to make a noticeable impact on the environment, but it will make a positive impact in that one life. Once entire nations start to understand the myths about what really makes individuals happy, the world will stand a fighting chance.

"Be The Difference You Want. To See In The World."
~Mahatma Gandi.

Posted by Rebecca Sato.

Related Galaxy posts:

Bigger Threat Than Global Warming: Mass Species Extinction
The End of Oil?


See original news item:, Jan-30-2009  
Related reading:
  Enough! (Nov-3-2010)
  Urbanitemares (Jan-14-2010)
  What Makes Europe Greener than the U.S.? (Oct-2-2009)
  What goes around, comes around? (Aug-17-2009)
  Reptilian Brain and Wisdom Brain... What's Going... (Aug-3-2009)
  The Guardian Institutions of Hierarchy (Jul-23-2009)
  The Message of Overconsumption (Jun-14-2009)
  MIT: Climate Change Odds Much Worse Than Thought (May-19-2009)
  Obama Makes Largest Commitment to Science in US ... (Apr-29-2009)
  "The days of science taking a back seat to ideolo..." (Apr-29-2009)

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Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Jun-17-2009)   
Well, according to, I have about a 90% customer approval rating.
I solve problems. The problem with writing about solving problems is that most people who have a problem don't want to know that it is their fault they have the problem (they bought the sales pitch for junk or don't know how to operate it), nor do they want to do the uncomfortable steps required to remedy their mistakes.
Sanity is defined many ways, but generally is judged by the majority's behavior. Anyone in today's world who chooses to take the steps illustrated by nature (living cooperatively with the universe and getting off the job/debt/democracy/religion/merchantmadness treadmill) is considered 'fringe' and insane.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Jun-16-2009)   Web site

AG, I just remembered a classic sequence from the TV show, Cheers. There was a, let's say, "difficult" waitress named Carla. She took on a new job away from the bar Cheers, and after working for a week or two, she received a "Satisfied Customer Bonus" along with her paycheck. Her amazed comment was, "Wow, I never received a Satisfied Customer Bonus before. Actually, I've never had a satisfied customer!". I hope that is not you? :--)
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Jun-16-2009)   

Except I mostly interpreted it from Doug Rushkoff's "Coercion".
Things that pop out of my head?....nobody sane agrees with. They usually involve firearms.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Jun-16-2009)   Web site

Hey, AG, I think that for the first time I agree with everything you wrote (in the below comment).
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Jun-16-2009)   

CW: The process of materialization (marketing) CREATES much of the low self esteem in order to sell you things. As we have become a consumer culture, our children have learned to brood and have low self-esteem even though they have no reason to. Low self esteem has become the national habit that feeds us into the purchases we are born to make.
Advertisers will tell everyone that they are making choices (it feels good to take a stand, right?), while they tell their clients that consumers are at their beck and call. Which is it?
A person seeing an ad for a deodorant doesn't realize that without the deodorant ads, most people wouldn't bother to worry about their body odor. The same applies to most of our triggered anxieties which lead to purchasing things that don't actually work as well as we expect them to. The flashy car doesn't get the girl, the soda pop doesn't make us a sports star, and the next candidate for president is not going to change anything that wouldn't change from social evolution anyway.
Billions of dollars that have to be created from resources sucked out of the ground just to encourage us to suck more resources out of the ground.
The cigarette industry alone should motivate us to ban all advertising as harmful to children.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Feb-6-2009)   Web site

I would say that, knowing human nature, when a person lowers themselves to become materialistic there is unavoidable shame and loss of self-esteem. A person who elevates their nature beyond materialism and consumerism will naturally have high self-esteem.
Comment by: City Worker (Feb-4-2009)   

Interesting. But I am wondering why materialism would create low self-esteem. Is is because you can never have enough? Or is it something else?

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