It’s a truism that neither money nor materialism can buy happiness, but a new study by psychologists at Northwestern University Chicago, published in the March 2012 edition of Psychological Science, claims that people who place a high value on wealth, status, and possessions are more depressed, anxious and less sociable than those who do not.
The report’s findings are interesting, and I don’t doubt the probity of the research, but I am sceptical of conclusions that suggest it is somehow better to be poor than rich. I’ve no doubt the anxieties of the well-off are genuine, but surely there’s a sense of perspective missing: a concern over where the next Gucci bag is coming from vs a concern over where the next meal is coming from.
The difference is that if you’re affluent, you don’t ‘need’ things – you just ‘want’ things. This is why our participation in consumerism requires us to be kept in a permanent state of dissatisfaction. Only by convincing us that we should be dissatisfied with what we have – whether it’s a phone, bag or car – is it possible to persuade us that we ‘want’ the new version.