The link between anxiety and valuing the wrong things

Does money or status make you happy?  An American Psychologist Tim Kasser wanted to discover if this was true.  So he surveyed people about their aspirations and came to a startling conclusion.  The more materialistic people were the less happy they were.  They had much higher levels of anxiety and depression.  He followed it up with another study where he had people keep a diary tracking 9 different emotions.  He discovered more materialistic people enjoyed life less.  They felt more angry and more sick.

This leads us to the question of why.

Johann Hari points us in the direction of our values.  If we find ourselves not doing what we want to do, but we do things because others will be impressed with us we have extrinsic motivations .  It might to be keep our boss happy with us, maintain a certain level of status among a group of people, or to be rewarded with praise or money, we are working to keep other people happy.

The opposite of this is intrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation is when are motivated to do something because we genuinely enjoy it, and it comes from our internal values.

Tim Kasser kept digging in to this and discovered that people who accomplished goals that were motivated extrinsically were never satisfied.  Even if they spent a substantial amount of energy to accomplish those goals they felt the same as they did when they started.  However if people accomplished their intrinsically motivated goals they were happier and less anxious.  Since then several follow up studies have come to the same conclusion.  The more you are motivated extrinsically the more anxious you will feel.

When this was studied in greater depth Tim Kasser found four key reasons why having external values leaves us so unsatisfied with life.

It diminishes the power of live giving relationships.  Materialistic people had shorter and less satisfying relationships.  When you are motivated by status or reputation, you tend to be attracted to other people who are motivated by the same thing.  You are less likely to value them personally, and they are less likely to value you.

When you are intrinsically motivated you can get lost in doing what you love, and extrinsically motivated people never in to that state.  When you do what you love you are not worried about what you are going to accomplish, or what people think of you doing it.  You just love doing it, which means you can enjoy it that much more.

Extrinsically motivated people are always thinking about how people judge them.  Their self-worth and self-esteem is linked to how people respond to them.  Things are OK as long you believe you measure up, but even the smallest criticism, even from people who are not fair judges of you, can ruin your day.

Deep down we need to feel like we matter, that people will support us when we need it, that our work and our place in the world has significance and meaning.  If we are motivated by materialism or status, we will not be looking for these things.  It is a lost opportunity that leaves us empty and anxious.

So if you look at your house, or your car or your clothes and think less of yourself because of it pause and reflect.  Am I judging myself by the best yardstick?  Have I ever felt satisfied or fulfilled when I what I am chasing?  If not, perhaps think about what you really want to do and what really matters to you.  Chances are those things are far more accessible than what your neighbour has.