When you’re struggling to make it to payday, it’s tempting to think that winning the lottery will solve all your problems. But, contrary to popular belief, money alone isn’t the secret to happiness. According to an article in the current issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology, gratitude matters more than any other factor when it comes to determining long term happiness levels.
James A. Roberts of Baylor University and his colleagues found multiple studies indicating that people who are more materialistic are generally less satisfied with their standards of living, their relationships, and their lives as a whole. But, their research showed that the act of gratitude served as a buffer for the negative effects of materialism — resulting in greater happiness.
“Given the negative relationship that materialism has with positive affect, it stands to reason that positive affect and related constructs such as gratitude might be important moderators in the association between materialism and life satisfaction,” they wrote. “In contrast to materialism, gratitude is a positive emotion that is experienced when someone perceives that another person has intentionally given him or her a valued benefit.”
Materialism is inherently self-focused, since it involves acquiring objects for personal gain. Gratitude’s prosocial natural is other-focused, encouraging people to be thankful for the blessings they already have.
From a purely scientific perspective, the balance between these two interests is what results in maximum happiness. This means you can indulge in a shopping spree guilt-free when you have the extra cash, as long as you remember to be grateful for what you already have during times when money is tight.