A recent study shows that people who try to be environmentally friendly by buying less stuff are happier. *Emily Reynolds from BPS Research Digest explains.
Our growing focus on environmental sustainability means that many of us are changing how and what we consume. We recycle; we re-use our own shopping bags; and there is even a rising interest in buying second-hand clothing. New research, published in the youth market journal, Young Consumers, shows that these and other consumer choices can affect our wellbeing.
**Sabrina Helm and her team at the University of Arizona looked at the “culturally entrenched materialistic values” that influence millennials. The researchers started with data collected online from about 1,000 college students, from their first year, aged 18 to 21, and then three and five years later.
The students completed scales measuring their level of materialism; how often they engaged in proactive financial behaviours such as saving; and their proactive environmental behaviours, i.e. “green buying” (buying products that limit impact on the environment), and reduced consumption (repairing or reusing things rather than buying replacements). Personal wellbeing, life satisfaction, financial satisfaction and psychological distress were also measured.
While the results showed that the more materialistic a person was, the less likely they were to reduce their consumption, they were still likely to engage in green buying. This could be because it still involved obtaining new items.
“There is evidence that there are ‘green materialists,’” says Helm. “If you are able to buy environmentally-friendly products, you can still live your materialist values. You’re acquiring new things, and that fits into the mainstream consumption pattern in our consumer culture.”
Interestingly, the green materialists with lower levels of consumption also reported higher personal wellbeing and lower psychological distress, but green buying did not show any link to wellbeing at all.
Of course, there are other complex social and cultural factors around materialism that should be kept in mind. People with higher levels of materialism may be less happy for other reasons, or happy people may be more likely to engage in reduced consumption, not the other way around. Also, those with high levels of materialism may not be made any happier by reducing their consumption.
Making changes in consumer habits is not a straightforward process by any means, but our perspective on sustainability and our approach to reducing consumption will undoubtedly develop as the clock ticks on climate change. Understanding how to navigate our role in environmental issues is only going to get more pressing.
**Sabrina Helm, Joyce Serido, Sun Young Ahn, Victoria Ligon, Soyeon Shim: Young Consumers – “Materialist values, financial and pro-environmental behaviors, and well-being.”