No Amount of Shopping Will Fill the Hole in Your Lonely Heart


If you’re the kind of person who found both the book and movie for Confessions of a Shopaholic to be stunningly accurate depictions of the sadness that comes from valuing material possessions too much, a new study from the Journal of Consumer Research has got your back. Researchers have found that the more materialistic you are, the lonelier you get, and vice versa.

The study isolated the three different “subtypes” of materialism that scientists have long rested their research on: acquisition centrality, which is when someone is just a shopaholic type who likes buying things; possession-defined success, when someone is always trying to buy things to keep up with those around them; and acquisition as the pursuit of happiness, which is when people get happy just from the process of trying to buy something – having a goal, so to speak.

This research is notable because it’s found a slightly different pattern of behavior than than the work that’s been done before was able to:

This research is the first to provide evidence that materialism and loneliness form a self-perpetuating cycle with vicious and virtuous sides. Materialism was associated with an increase in loneliness over time, and loneliness was associated with an increase in materialism over time, and this latter effect was notably stronger.

Researchers found that people who fell into possession-defined success were actually falling into a long “materialism-loneliness cycle” where they would get lonelier the more they purchased and then continue purchasing more. But on the flip side, traditional shopoholics actually reported being less lonely over time, and any increase in materialism on the part of the person wasn’t related to their feelings of loneliness. So if you just like buying things, it won’t make you lonely.

All that being said, if you’re single, watch out:

…singles sought happiness by means of material possessions…more than other people did but they appeared to derive less pleasure from acquiring and owning material possessions…and they used them less as a measure of success in life….Thus, singles endorsed items such as “I’d be happier if I could afford to buy more things” more, but they endorsed items such as “Buying things gives me lots of pleasure” and “I like to own things that impress people” less.
Singles seemed to focus on material possessions as a medicine to improve happiness, which was unsuccessful; they were lonelier, and the pursuit of happiness by means of material possessions contributed to the growth of loneliness over time.

There is a solution, one that study author Rik Pieters hasn’t thought of: you could just find a Hugh Dancy-type to sweep you off your feet while you’re picking out a green scarf and life will be all set.

[via The Atlantic]

Bidirectional Dynamics of Materialism and Loneliness: Not Just a Vicious Cycle [JCR]

Image via Robert Zuckerman/Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruchheimer, Inc.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin