Busting the Must-have Mentality

If you’re on an unending quest to have the slickest gadgets and chicest clothes, your relationships and happiness may suffer along the way.

Every day, you’re bombarded with advertisements for the newest products that promise to make your life easier and more satisfying. If you think your happiness is tied to acquiring them — if you buy for the sake of having more or better things — it can have just the opposite effect.

“Our society has become one of instant gratification,” says Ramona Osburn, F.A.C.H.E., senior vice president of behavioral health at Texas Health Resources. “We have to have the latest and greatest all the time — tapping that desire is what makes some companies successful. If you don’t balance your life with other goals and priorities, you might become so focused on the pursuit of material things that the bonds of your relationships may weaken.”

Why are certain individuals prone to materialism? Research suggests it might be a mechanism for coping with insecurity or a reaction to childhood poverty or emotional or physical trauma. Whatever materialism’s roots, its effects on quality of life — which can include stress, anxiety, hoarding and depression, not to mention the toll it takes on marriages and other relationships — can be devastating.

Rethink and Reset

Psychology professor and materialism expert and author Tim Kasser, Ph.D., argues that individuals have extrinsic (materialistic) and intrinsic (or intangible), goals. He has found that individuals who focus on achieving intrinsic goals — such as connecting with loved ones or helping others — are happier than those who prioritize extrinsic goals.

If you think materialism has become a problem for you, slow down and take time to reflect on what truly matters and what you want to accomplish in life, whether it’s spending more time with your family, pursuing a hobby or volunteering in your community. Take simple steps to refocus on the most important people in your life.

“Enjoy family activities — such as game nights and dinners together — that don’t require you to be surrounded by possessions,” Osburn says. “We must teach our children from an early age that life should be defined by the things you can’t buy.”

A psychiatrist may be able to help you uncover the roots of anxiety or depression, which can be associated with materialism. To find a psychiatrist, visit TexasHealth.org/FindAPhysician.

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