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Consumerism: Hazardous to Your Health

[Researchers have found that those who energetically seek wealth are] not only more depressed than others, but also report more behavioral problems and physical discomfort, as well as scoring lower on measures of vitality and self-actualization.  While not every study has investigated the full list of effects, the pattern that emerges from the research project as a whole is remarkably consistent.

Dr.  Ryan and Dr.  Kasser said their studies provided a look at the "dark side of the American dream," noting that the culture in some ways seemed to be built on precisely what turned out to be detrimental to mental health. Americans are encouraged to try to strike it rich, but, "the more we seek satisfactions in material goods, the less we find them there," Dr.  Ryan said. "The satisfaction has a short half-life; it's very fleeting."

Moreover, the detrimental effect of extrinsic goals seems to hold regardless of age or even level of income: A preoccupation with money bodes ill regardless of how much money one already has.  The effects also appear not to be limited to any one culture.  Dr.  Kasser and his associates have now collected data from subjects in 13 countries, including Germany, Russia and India.  The fact that pursuing wealth is psychologically unhelpful and often destructive, he reports, "comes through very strongly in every culture I've looked at."

Affluence, per se, does not necessarily result in an unsatisfying life. Problems are primarily associated with "living a life where that's your focus," Dr.  Ryan said.

- Alfie Kohn, "In Pursuit of Affluence, at a High Price," New York Times, February 2, 1999