People with shopping addictions love it mostly for the “high” it brings. They falsely believe the high will last, and their happiness levels inevitably return to a baseline level, continuing a vicious cycle. Psychologists call this cycle “hedonic elevation and decline.”
University of Missouri Marketing Professor Marsha Richins looks at this phenomenon in a new paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, “When Wanting Is Better Than Having,” where she compares high- and low-materialist shoppers. “High-materialist” consumers have much higher expectations of what a product will do for their overall happiness, which is why positive emotions peak and then fall again after a purchase.
According to research, materialists are “more likely to believe that acquisition will change the kind of person they are, improve their relationships with others, enable them to have more pleasure in their lives, and enhance the effectiveness with which they carry out daily tasks.” They also experience “more negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear, and envy.”
In one experiment, Richins surveyed 350 consumers across the demographic spectrum. They purchased a range of items, from cars to TVs, with a median purchase price of $990. Here’s what she found:
Photo: Journal of Consumer Research
These findings support other research on happiness. Most people return to their baseline level after positive and negative life events, no matter how positive or negative. This implies that people should find more purpose and meaning in their everyday lives, rather than wait for specific circumstances to make them happier.