In The High Price of Materialism, Tim Kasser provides a scientific explanation for the manner in which consumerism and materialism affects happiness and psychological health for modern culture. While other writers have focused on the significant need for Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs in order to improve well-being including food, shelter, and clothing, Kasser offers how materialistic desires relate to well-being. It is here that Kasser shows that individuals whose values center of accumulating material possession actually face a higher propensity for unhappiness, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and problems with intimacy, regardless of their background, age, or income levels.
Kasser presents ten years’ worth of empirical data to support the fact that those who organize their lives around materialism face negative impacts on interpersonal relationships and internal experiences. It is this work which indicates that materialistic values not only undermine an individual’s well-being but they also perpetuate a feeling of personal insecurity and low self-esteem, things which weaken bonds and relationships and cause individuals to feel less free. The results of his work also indicate that these feelings are often secondary to personality disorders, antisocial behavior, narcissism, and headaches. Thankfully the author does more than just define the problem; he does so far as to offer a plethora of ways in which individual can change themselves, their families, and their societies to steer away from materialism.
Kasser’s book is provocative and all nine chapters are full of research and scientifically supported information. Kasser is a psychologist by profession and as such his studies are empirical studies based in clinical trials and laboratory settings. His work was contributed to by other social scientists and psychologists from around the world to examine population samples that ranged from preschool children to college students all the way to adults. Well-being is not grounded in material possessions and, as many existential thinker or humanist psychologist will tell you, including Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, well-being is really founded in those items necessary for survival including food, shelter, and clothing. He emphasized that people needed safety and security, self-esteem and efficacy, connectedness to other people and a sense of belonging, and freedom or a sense of autonomy. His work really started in an effort to answer the question of what happens what interpersonal relationships and internal experiences are changed by materialism. The author aptly cites studies which conclude that people who focus on materialistic values never satisfied their need for safety and security.
The author makes a note of accepting that the strong pursuit of materialism goals can result in temporary mood improvements, but he emphasizes that these improvements are nothing but short lived and they result in even more emptiness once the material success is achieved. He also concludes that people who continually pursue such goals will begin to question their esteem and competence, which often results in bad health. He correctly highlights that the impact of materialistic values conflicts with the natural characteristics necessary for high quality relationships or necessary to improve one’s community. People who are heavily invested in materialistic values treat people as objects and do not strive to cultivate a feeling of connectedness with them. This invariably leads to a feeling of alienation. Subsequently, feelings of connection and intimacy elude such individuals.
The results of the author’s work indicate that those who have strong materialistic values invariably feel pressured and controlled and never feel free, which created a feeling of deep-seeded emptiness and imprisonment. The author does well in emphasizing that the materialistic values he found not only impact health and happiness of current individuals, creating only shallow and superficial relationships, empathy levels, and intimacy, but that they are likely to extend to future generations, to reach the broader community and even transcend into nearby communities. Kasser is correct in apportioning the continuing decay of values, society, and the planet to the blind pursuit of materialistic achievement by people. The health of communities and the planet are both suffering from the hallucination that people need to consume and unsustainable amount of natural resources just to prove to those around them that they can.
Kasser suggests that people change their values to those which promote good relationships, community contributions, and self-acceptance. Reducing materialistic values must be done. He purports that in order to improve quality of life, individuals must reduce the materialistic values grounded within daily life and erase the idea of psychological health which the current media circulates. Since the 1970’s much of media has focused on materialism consumerism, on how wealth and success are only existent if they are coupled with personal ownership over unnecessary items. And this belief is a serious health risk to individuals, to communities, and to the natural resources of the earth, such that reducing materialistic values is the only way to put an end to the destruction. The changes that Kasser suggests are necessary are significantly broader than anticipated, and do not necessarily give people step by step instructions for how to start reducing the negative and psychologically harmful view of materials circulated by mass media, and instead offer broad strokes for change. As a psychologist, it would stand to reason that perhaps more in depth changes should be offered or at the very least, suggested, although this would seemingly come in the form of a second installation, given that the primary purpose of this book was to present the empirical evidence from his ten year studies.