Money and happiness do not mix. There is plenty of psychological research on the connection between your financial wealth and the degree to which you have a happy life. It is not a straight relationship. When people are in absolute poverty they are frequently happy; they know no other life and they tend to have significant social support. When people have some money, they often want more – believing that the extra cash will make them happier. But as they gain higher incomes, their happiness frequently goes down and so they simply need more money (they think) to make them happy. And the billionaires? Well, it’s not the money that makes them happy. Rather, it is the power, the influence and the sense of achievement that drives their happiness. Overall, research tends to show that acquiring greater wealth is unrelated to happiness. Indeed, there are findings which suggest that the richer you become, the more depressed you get.
Now there is new research which looks at the connection between money, materialism, happiness and social activity. And it is not a pleasant finding.
The study, conducted at Northwestern University, shows that as people acquire more wealth and increasingly buy more things, they get more depressed and less social. In itself, that finding does not add a great deal to the existing knowledge on the relationship between happiness and consumerism. However, there was a twist to this study. Rather than being a look backwards at what people did, it was conducted using experiments which revealed that even if people were not materialistic in nature and did not actually buy things, simply being exposed to the “make more money” or “have more stuff” kind of advertising also made them sadder and less social.
So, what do we see online – particularly on social networks? There is advert after advert telling you how to get rich quick, plus there is the social pressure to buy things because your friends “liked” them. Not only are we surrounded online by advertising and social pressure to increase our materialistic desires, we feel pressured into doing so because our friends have bought things.
This new research implies this is a toxic mix – simply being surrounded by consumerism makes us sadder – but it also makes us less social. The advertising social networks carry could also be their downfall. For social networks to work we need to be as social as possible, but as this research reveals the more materialistic advertising we are exposed to, the less social we become. Hence, the more social networks carry advertising, the less social activity we will undertake, defeating the entire object of the social network itself.
- Consumerism and its antisocial effects can be turned on – or off (psychologicalscience.org)
- Selling products on social media is tougher than selling experiences (grahamjones.co.uk)
- Why Money Really Can Buy Happiness (money.usnews.com)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+