Loading up on the latest gadgets won't buy happiness -- and it certainly can lead to much unhappiness if what you purchase today only triggers the desire for more stuff tomorrow. However, it's a tough lesson to teach to our kids, given that marketers are selling them an entirely different bill of goods 24/7. If you're looking for something new to add to the discussion, you may want to track down a study published in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science.
A team of psychologists at Texas Tech University asked a group of university undergrads to conduct an inventory of their possessions. The researchers asked which of 52 different items ranging from a car to a stereo to a bed they possessed. They then asked the students to rate their level of happiness with each possession and, in the event that they didn't own a particular possession, to indicate (by assigning a rating) how much they desired that particular item.
When the researchers analyzed their data, they discovered a couple of interesting trends.
First, undergraduate students who are generally happy with what they already have tend to be happier than those who want less of what they have (an attitude which may indicate dissatisfaction with what they have).
Second, undergraduate students who have an abundance of whatever it is that they really want tend to be happier than those who don't have enough. (Feeling satisfied with what you have is the key.)
The implication for us parents is clear: if we can teach our kids to enjoy what they already have and to anticipate and savor future purchases (as opposed to immediately shifting their focus to what they can buy next), they won't feel the same need to get new stuff to satisfy that fleeting happiness fix. The net result will be happier kids, a less stressed family budget, less cluttered homes, and emptier landfill sites (and a happier Mother Earth).
Given that marketing messages are designed to create dissatisfaction and make kids (and adults) want more stuff, how can we teach kids to manage and respond to those messages?