In the Western world, we live with an unprecedented level of material abundance. You just need to take a look down the high street at the preponderance of coffee shops and nail bars (alongside the ever-increasing army of estate agents) to gauge the generalised decadence of our way of life. Most of us want for very little and feel we’re lagging behind unless we have the latest phone, gadget or holiday experience. Our society is geared up to fuel consumerism – if we want it we can have it, on credit if necessary.
A new study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences sheds interesting light on the relationship between material satisfaction and satisfaction in life – it would appear that having our material needs met does not necessarily make for a happy life. You may not be surprised to know there is something else going on.
The researchers asked 246 participants to complete a questionnaire which measured ‘need satisfaction’, ‘gratitude’ and ‘satisfaction in life’. What they discovered was that those who scored low on gratitude and high on need satisfaction were more likely to be less satisfied with their lives – in other words, their needs were satisfied but they were not.
The authors propose that gratitude is about an attitude of receptivity – the perception of receiving a gift from outside of ourselves. Because we are social creatures, when we extend our minds beyond our own little worlds (which we necessarily do when we experience gratitude), we benefit with a sense of wellbeing.
They point out that people who are materialistic tend to be self-centred rather than interested in those around them, and are more likely to focus on what they don’t have (and need to get in order to be satisfied). They are generally ungrateful for (or perhaps unaware of) what they do have, be it their health, family or job.
We’re all familiar with the ‘poor little rich kid’ archetype and stories of eye-wateringly wealthy celebrities who wind up with lives imploding, in deep pits of addiction, depression and despair. We’ve never been able to buy our way out of these states because the problem is not material, but spiritual.
Personally, I find writing a gratitude list a powerful antidote if I’m feeling down – to itemise the many gifts which have been showered upon me is to acknowledge, for one thing, that I’m part of something bigger than me. An attitude of gratitude shifts the focus away from the things I think (erroneously) will make me happy and onto the things I already have. Gratitude, in my experience, uplifts the soul.
Written by Jacqui Hogan