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Do Things Really Make Us Happy?

A quick stroll through an antique store can produce feelings of nostalgia and make us yearn for the past. That’s because many of the items we see trigger memories or symbolize something special to us. An old aluminum table might cause us to recollect days spent cooking and eating in grandma’s kitchen. Other antiques, such as a hand-crank telephone, an old phonograph, a television with an antenna, or an original Atari game, signify how far we’ve come in terms of technological growth. Americans continue to gravitate toward material things. Modern materialism drives consumers to spend good portions of their disposable income to acquire more goods. While increases in spending and production have positive effects on the GDP, on a personal level, materialism can cause some people to suffer.

Materialism, as defined by Oxford Languages, is a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values. When things begin to take on more importance than they deserve, we ultimately lose a sense of control over our lives, and the results can negatively impact our well-being. An article published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2022 examines the association between Covid-19-related well-being and materialism and perceived threat. The article explores how materialism impairs some healthy behaviors and harms relationships, making people less likely to trust others and more likely to experience loneliness. Since material things require our time, energy, and attention, it makes it increasingly difficult to concentrate on ourselves, our families, and our friendships. After researching the subject, the study concluded that people scoring high in materialism experienced low levels of well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research demonstrated that the pandemic increased people’s vulnerability to threats and drove up anxiety and depression in certain individuals. Additionally, the study supported the importance of focusing on goals and spending time in nature to enhance one’s well-being. 

There are other interesting studies currently underway to examine the impact of material things on human health. The goal is to determine if our possessions have positive or negative influences on physical and mental well-being. To date, numerous findings suggest that materialism is linked to insecurities and higher amounts of depression. While having things we need and use and like is not necessarily a problem, overaccumulation and giving items we own more value than they deserve can be problematic. Thus, it’s important to pay attention to what really matters in life, such as the people we love, and to release possessions that unnecessarily weigh us down. Focusing on being grateful for our blessings, rather than falling into the pit of materialism, can provide hope and inspiration to live our best lives. Perhaps this is part of the key to happiness.


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