Materialistic kids aren't just tough to shop with at Target ("TeenyMates! Shopkins! Legos! Need! Them! All!"). They're at an increased risk of developing long-term social and psychological issues, according to a new study.
Aric Rindfleisch, professor of business administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has spent 20 years researching materialism, and he calls it a learned value that can negatively impact a person's lifelong well-being.
"Materialism is a value," Rindfleisch told me. "And people who hold strongly to it tend to suffer both psychologically and socially, in terms of a reduced sense of well-being, lower levels of happiness, reduced life satisfaction and increased rates of anxiety, depression, stress and loneliness."
But he also has some good news.
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In a new study, Rindfleisch found that materialism can be curbed with a simple series of gratitude exercises.
"When we're grateful, we reflect on the generosity of others," he said. "Given that we're social humans, this idea of reciprocity kicks off the notion that we should be generous to others."
After studying a nationwide sample of 900 adolescents ages 11 to 17, Rindfleisch's team found a definitive link between gratitude and materialism, suggesting that strategies to induce more gratitude could possibly lower materialism in teens.
They gathered 61 adolescents (29 boys and 32 girls) and asked them to complete a five-item gratitude measure and an eight-item materialism measure. Then the kids were assigned to keep a daily journal for two weeks. One group was asked to record what they were thankful for each day, and one group was asked to simply record their daily activities.
Next, they were each given 10 $1 bills for participating, and told they could keep all the money or donate some of it to charity.
After two weeks, participants completed the same gratitude and materialism measures. The kids who recorded what they were grateful for each day showed a significant increase in gratitude and a significant decrease in materialism. The other group retained their pre-journal levels of gratitude and materialism.
In addition, the gratitude journal participants donated 60 percent more of their earnings than the kids who simply recorded their daily activities.
"The findings show that cultivating a grateful disposition among adolescents is not only a powerful counterweight to materialism, but also notably reduces its negative effects on generosity," the study states.
Feelings of gratitude can be fostered through a variety of methods, the study points out: daily reflection around the dinner table, keeping a gratitude jar where kids write down something they're grateful for each week, art projects that ask children to list what they're thankful for, etc.
Which is a lot easier than trying to avoid the messages and temptations that lead to materialism in the first place: commercials, friends who have more than you, trips to Target.
"It's an easy work-around that combats materialism, rather than trying to stop it from forming in the first place," Rindfleisch said. "The low-cost, easy solution of simply reflecting once a day on something to be thankful for can, over time, reduce materialism and make children and society kinder and gentler to one another."
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