A recent story at Time.com — “Do You Love Your Stuff Too Much? Maybe It’s Because No One Loves You” by Meredith Melnick — explores the results of a new study that set out to determine whether we substitute material possessions for love, and whether people who have lots of love in their life actually value possessions less.
Researchers from the University of New Hampshire and Yale University asked half of the study participants to think of a time they felt supported and cared for, and the other half to think of a recent fun experience, like eating out at a good restaurant. Then all participants were asked to put a dollar value on the blanket currently on their bed. Interestingly, the group that was asked to recall a fun experience valued their blanket at $173.30 on average; those who were asked to recall being well loved valued their blanket at only $33.38.
According to lead researcher Edward Lemay, assistant professor of psychology at University of New Hampshire: “People value possessions, in part, because they afford a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort…But what we found was that if people already have a feeling of being loved and accepted by others, which also can provide a sense of protection, insurance and comfort, those possessions decrease in value.”
This study immediately reminded me of the contemporary television fascination with hoarders of all stripes; those broken spirits who hold onto old tupperware containers and doll collections while both their physical and emotional environments deteriorate around them. In the absence of real love and purpose and fulfillment, all they have is their stuff.
But that’s clearly an extreme. On the other end of the spectrum are the everyday ways we use stuff to make us happier. So many women use shopping as a mood elevator. You’re feeling down, you need a fix and the next thing you know you’ve spent $500 on some completely impractical leopard-print booties. And here’s the thing: sometimes, if you can afford them, these little things genuinely can brighten an otherwise blah day. I guess the trick is knowing where to draw the line, and knowing where the real value in life lies. It doesn’t really matter how much you spend on a blanket; but it does matter who’s on the other side of the bed.