The pop singer Madonna began singing "Material Girl" in 1985 and now, 23 years later, we can still hear it playing over again, echoing in our minds…
Living in a material world And I am a material girl You know that we are living in a material world And I am a material girl…
We were reminded of this song when we recently saw the nearly 50-year-old Madonna topping Forbes magazine’s list of the richest women in the music industry. There’s no question that materialism as personified by Madonna in the 1980s today permeates American culture. But is America happier since it has adopted materialism as its secular religion? Interestingly enough, the answer is clearly "no."
The United Kingdom’s New Scientist magazine published the results of a study investigating socio-cultural and political change of more than 65 countries. The researchers used the World Values Survey that included some questions about how happy people are and how satisfied they are with their lives. An international group of social scientists conducted the survey, and they came to some conclusions which may surprise you.
Although incomes have risen considerably since World War II, they say happiness levels have remained virtually the same in industrial countries. Researchers believe the reason for the happiness levels staying stagnant despite the increase in earnings is linked to consumerism. Being in a wealthy industrialized country is no guarantee of happiness. In fact, some of the happiest people in the world live in undeveloped parts of Africa, Latin America and Mexico.
Another finding from the study was that the desire for material goods is described by the researchers as "a happiness suppressant."
"Materialism is toxic for happiness," says University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener. He points out even rich materialists are not as happy as those who care less about getting and spending. Materialism has an insatiable appetite for material possessions or objects.
So who are the happiest people?
Research psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, who has written a book on happiness by taking a scientific approach, says, "We are …unlikely to find lasting happiness by changing our life circumstances. Although we may achieve temporary boosts in well-being by moving to new parts of the country, securing raises, or changing our appearances, such boosts are unlikely to be long-lasting. The primary reason…is that people readily and rapidly adapt to positive circumstantial changes."