The best things in life aren’t things.

-Art Buchwald

While nice things may be nice, the relentless pursuit of material goods leaves people feeling empty. More money, a faster car, a brand new dress and a bigger house don’t bring happiness. What is striking is how bad most of us are at predicting what will.

The offices of Park Avenue psychiatrists are filled with people who have “everything” but feel empty inside. Philosophers and religious teachers have known this forever and research confirms it. Study after study shows that materialism is bad for wellbeing. It actually undermines happiness.

The good news is that there are proven strategies to reduce materialism. In one study, a group of adolescents were asked to participate in three sessions where they learned about consumer culture. Then they were asked to think about what they value most in life such as friendship, family, giving back to the community and connections. The adolescents became less materialistic, showed greater self-esteem and were more content than those who didn’t participate in the sessions.

By focusing on what was intrinsically meaningful to them, they gained perspective and were able to distance themselves from the “more is more” rat race. As the researcher commented:

Intrinsic goals tend to be the ones that promote greater well-being and act as a kind of ‘antidote’ to materialistic values.

In other words, when people live their lives in concert with their values, they are inoculated against the unyielding lure of luxury.

Arthur Brooks says it best:

Love people, not pleasure.