What is it that you need to be happy? If you can trust the advertisers, and of course you can, then drinking the right brand of soft drink will lead to ecstatic laughter with a very good-looking group of friends. Apparently some pairs of jeans will also lead to a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment. As for buying a house or car, doing either of those things is to achieve nirvana on earth. All of this is according to the advertisers, of course.
The intriguing question is, if buying these things leads to happiness, then why are so many jeans-wearing car-owners still searching for fulfillment? There are lots of answers to that, of course, but a new piece of research has thrown an interesting light on this consumerist conundrum.
In the new study, researchers conducted a series of experiments where they established first of all whether a person was materialistic or not. Then they measured emotional states leading up to and after making a purchase.
They found that people who scored high on materialism reported much stronger positive emotions when thinking about making a future purchase. This was true for expensive items like a car but was also true for cheaper items like electrical items for the home. It also remained true whether the purchase was to be made within a few weeks or in more than a yearâ€™s time.
Essentially, materialists believe that an upcoming purchase would transform their life in a meaningful way. Of course, this is despite their past experience with toasters that have failed to change much more than the colour of their crumpets. Materialists believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that purchases can change the way they feel about themselves, allow them to have more pleasurable experiences or help them live life more effectively.
Guess what? Those materialists are wrong. The pleasure that materialists derive from anticipating buying something far outweighs the joy and change that the actual purchase brings.
Given that materialists are more likely to go into debt to buy things, these researchers think that simply knowing that the anticipation far exceeds the event might help materialists reduce their spending. That might be true, but the bigger message is that happiness cannot be bought, it must be earned, and you earn it by understanding your own true nature.
Consumerism depends on people believing they need â€œthingsâ€ to make them happy. When we have ads that tell us, â€œYou know what, you donâ€™t need this, you donâ€™t need anything: just beâ€, then perhaps enlightenment might not be too far away.