Does Having More Stuff Make You Happier?

Does Having More Stuff Make You Happier?

The Disconnect Between Materialism and Well-Being

Hong Kong people love stuff. Whether it’s a new 3D television, the latest iPad, or several pairs of designer sneakers, the typical American owns more than they need. Yet, despite all they possess, people aren’t happy with what they have. Most continue to want more. At least that’s the report from a 2010 study that found having more and wanting more doesn’t make people happier.

The Consequences of Wanting More

According to the authors of Wanting More than You Have and Its Consequences for Well-being, continually wanting more stuff doesn’t make you feel better. In fact, it actually decreases individual well-being. The paper, which was written by J. Ian Norris of Murray State University and Jeff T. Larsen of Texas Tech University, looked at the American culture of desire and examined how the trend toward materialism impacts happiness and well-being.

Hong Kong people Have Lots of Stuff

It’s interesting to note that, even during an economic slowdown, most Hong Kongers continue to own far more things than they need. In the states, according to Experian Automotive, for example, nearly 35% of American households own three or more vehicles. Likewise, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that 35% of Americans own smart phones. In addition, according to a 2007 study by Nielsen Media Research, the average American household has more TVs than people. That’s a lot of stuff.

You would think owning more stuff would make people happy. It doesn’t. If fact, it may have the opposite effect.

According to the Norris and Larsen findings, “the acquisition of material goods places us on a hedonic treadmill. To the extent that our wants outpace our haves, we might become less happy, even as our haves accumulate. This leads to the prediction that wanting more will be negatively associated with well-being.” In other words, acquiring stuff doesn’t make people happier; it just makes them want more stuff.

What Really Makes People Happy?

So if accumulating stuff doesn’t make people happy, what does? That question was partially answered in a study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois. Ed Diener, who specializes in the psychology of well-being, authored a piece entitled Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index.

In his research, Diener didn’t find a connection between happiness and what people own. Instead, he found a connection between happiness and strong ties to friends and family. In other words, it’s not what we have that makes us happy; it’s who we have to share it with.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

When it comes to having stuff and finding happiness, The Rolling Stones probably said it best. “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” What you need, it turns out, may not be the stuff you think you want. What you need may be more people to share your stuff with.