Why More Things Don't Make Us Happier

It's no secret that gratitude makes us happier, while materialism can do the opposite. And now, a new study shows that lower levels of gratitude could be part of the reason for why materialistic people have decreased life satisfaction, and that gratitude could actually mediate the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction.

"As we amass more and more possessions, we don't get any happier -- we simply raise our reference point," study researcher James Roberts, Ph.D., of the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University, said in a statement. "That new 2,500-square-foot house becomes the baseline for your desires for an even bigger house. It's called the Treadmill of Consumption. We continue to purchase more and more stuff but we don't get any closer to happiness, we simply speed up the treadmill."

The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, is based on survey results from 246 college students.

The students answered questions indicating their levels of materialism, gratitude, life satisfaction and need satisfaction (referring to psychological needs, such as autonomy, relatedness and competence).

Researchers found an association between materialism and decreased well-being. "A considerable proportion of the relationship between materialism and decreased life satisfaction can be explained by the decreased gratitude that high materialists experience, and the resultant decreases in basic psychological needs," the researchers wrote in the study.

However, researchers found that gratitude and satisfaction of psychological needs mediated the negative materialism-life satisfaction relationship in several ways. One way is that gratitude alone seems to have effects in improving well-being. Another way is that "high materialists are less happy in part because they find it harder to be grateful for what they have," the researchers wrote. "This decrease in gratitude is associated with detriments in basic psychological needs, which are needed in order for individuals to thrive."

The findings suggest that people who are materialistic might want to increase their gratitude in order to improve their life satisfaction, the researchers said.

Recently, a study in the journal Psychological Science showed that gratitude could also increase our patience, particularly in the context of not giving in to instant gratification in order to reap a greater reward later on.

On the other side of the coin, materialism has been linked with decreased marital satisfaction and unhealthy behaviors such as compulsive spending. For more ways materialism is bad for health, click here.