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The High Price of Materialism

4.2 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262611978
ISBN-10: 026261197X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

You've always known that money can't buy happiness, but do you have the data to prove it? Kasser, a psychology professor at Knox College, certainly does. Drawing on an impressive range of statistical studies, including ones that use his own "Aspiration Index," Kasser argues that a materialistic orientation toward the world contributes to low self-esteem, depression, antisocial behavior and even a greater tendency to get "headaches, backaches, sore muscles, and sore throats." In numerous studies, Kasser shows, people who were paid for completing a task that they normally found pleasurable (e.g., solving puzzles) reported the activity to be less fun than those who did the task without financial compensation. While at first the book seems to retrace the steps of Juliet B. Schor's The Overspent American and other recent titles that analyze why many Americans feel driven and unhappy despite success, Kasser goes beyond this, showing how materialistic values shape an individual's orientation toward friends, family, work, death and "internal satisfactions." Of great interest are the studies demonstrating that children of divorce and people with "less nurturing" mothers are more likely to hold strong materialistic values (though some readers may protest that children of divorce simply feel more economically vulnerable than their peers). Drawing on sources as diverse as dream analysis and game theory, Kasser powerfully argues that when we as individuals or as a nation feel more vulnerable, we exhibit more sharply defined materialistic tendencies a theme particularly resonant in this era of terrorist threats, personal debts and corporate scandals. Illus.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Does money buy happiness? For years, social scientists knew relatively little about this important question. Now that has changed. On the basis of more than a decade's worth of original research, Tim Kasser provides a powerful answer -- materialism undermines human well-being. The High Price of Materialism is a path-breaking work that suggests a fundamental rethinking of our values, behaviors, and economic structures. Deserves the widest possible readership.

(Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College; author of The Overworked American)

An excellent, thorough, insightful examination of object hedonism and its psychological costs. Well-written to boot.

(Amitai Etzioni, University Professor, George Washington University and author of The Monochrome Society)

What an irony: Lusting for and getting what we want -- more -- does not, in the long run, make middle class folks happier. Seeking ever more affluence exacts both environmental and psychic costs. So why not dream a new American dream, asks Kasser in this provocative and practical book -- one focused more on meaning than money, and more on connection than consumption.

(David G. Myers, Professor of Psychology, Hope College and author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty)

It is rare that a book combines insightful scholarship, rigorous research, passionate involvement in its subject, and a focus on a topic of true importance to the human condition. In his careful, caring, and constructive examination of materialism, Tim Kasser has created a brilliant analysis of a growing problem and its possible solutions.

(Russell W. Belk, N. Eldon Tanner Professor, David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah)

A much-needed scholarly analysis of the psychological factors surrounding materialism in contemporary America.

(Marsha L. Richins, College of Business, University of Missouri, Columbia)

Tim Kasser's book nails the whopping lie at the heart of our civilization: the belief that having more money and the things that money buys makes us happier. The truth, as he demonstrates so comprehensively and thoroughly, is that materialism breeds, not happiness, but dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, anger, isolation, and alienation. The importance of Kasser's message is difficult to overestimate; it reaches beyond our personal lives to the world situation. The global economy requires for its continued stability and growth that those of us in the West -- and Americans especially -- consume more and more. A vast media-marketing-advertising industrial complex serves this purpose. As a result of the consumer binge, our individual health suffers, social cohesion declines, and the biosphere is degraded. Reversing these trends means changing what we consider to be right, good, and important. Tim Kasser's book will add to the gathering momentum for achieving this fundamental shift in values.

(Richard Eckersley, Fellow, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, The Australian National University)

A valuable critique of material culture, with facts and surveys making the case that the true source of happiness comes from non-material pleasures.

(Betsy Taylor, President, New American Dream and author of Sustainable Planet)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 165 pages
  • Publisher: A Bradford Book (August 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026261197X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262611978
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #337,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rolf Dobelli HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This very short book demonstrates the truth of the proverb, "Money does not buy happiness." Author Tim Kasser cites numerous studies as he makes a compelling case that materialists are lonely, narcissistic, hampered in relationships, compulsive, insecure and disconsolate. This excellent, necessary work should be required reading for every graduating student and mid-career executive or professional. It is not quite a self-help book, although the author does offer a chapter of advice on how people can attempt to change their ways and even to form a less materialistic society. This is not merely a psychological study, although it recapitulates numerous experiments. It is only in part a polemic against materialism. On the whole, it is a curious work, one that may be a bit too facile and popular in tone to satisfy the most rigorous academic reader, yet far too packed with source citations to appeal immediately to many casual readers. We appreciate this thorough presentation of evidence for a truth to which even the most ardent materialists (such as the Material Girl herself) pay reflexive lip service. No individual or society can legitimately ignore the fact that material success does not correlate with satisfaction or well-being but has a high correlation with low self-esteem, depression, divorce and various forms of abuse.
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Format: Paperback
Great book. Can't say enough good things about it. Kasser breaks down materialism and the effects it has on society. It talks about its effects on one's mental and physical health, how it effects relationships and how it ultimately effects the environment. It is academic, but not so much that someone without a psychology background can't understand it. I didn't find it dry at all like one reader said it was. I was entertained and informed (what a rare combination these days.)

In the final chapter he provides things inviduals and communities can do to fight back against the rampant materialism we're constantly assaulted with and how fighting it will help improve our lives, the lives of the ones we love and the world in general. Make the author happy and check the book out from a library or borrow a copy from a friend.
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Format: Hardcover
The High Cost of Materialism is an interesting subject, but the author isn't up to the challenge he sets for himself. The Preface and Introduction are excellent. Both are succinct expressions of the problems that a market-driven economy creates within an individual looking for happiness.
But the method the author uses to accomplish his goal is falls short.

First of all, the author tries to make the claim that "If a person is aware of the effect of materialism in their life, they will probably become happy." This claim is weak at best. There are many people who are happy accumulating stuff. (I don't happen to be one of them, but I don't claim to represent all consumers in the world).

2nd, the author uses questionaires to determine what makes people happy.
He develops an 'Aspiration Index' with questions like:
1) 'Your image will be one others find appealing'
2) 'You will be famous'.
There are 15 of these questions.

He gives this questionaire to 350 people. And then he assumes these responses are an accurate portrayal of all consumers.
But, the sampling technique is terrible. I'm surprised the colleagues who reviewed this article didn't point this out.
For the 350 people, he chooses ONLY
(a) college students
(b) from one or two universities.

Holy cow! A book on the psychological effects
of materialism, seen through the eyes of college students.
What subset of America is represented by "18-22 years olds in University"?
To me, that makes all the conclusions based on his questionairre responses invalid, or spurious at best.

The book sets up many arguments of why people find materialism frustrating, and then refutes each of these. Sometimes finding some psychological 'causes'.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
What is good about this book?

1) It is very short. The time investment required is minimal relative to the practical impact of the material contained.

2) It is very precisely argued. Facts are presented intuitively and concisely with footnotes.

3) It is colorfully written. This is no small feat for a book that relies on quantitative evidence. I could barely put the book down until I finished reading it.

4) It is short, precise, and colorful enough to provide ample grist for discussion among a group of critical thinkers.

This book continues to have a positive and practical influence on my life. It has helped me to form my own opinion of the degree of materialism inherent in various choices presented to me on a daily basis, so that I could better evaluate these choices and make confident decisions about the prioritization of my time.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this to be a powerful book. What I appreciated most in this book was that the author wasn't just giving his opinions, but that he cited extensive research to back up his assertions. I've read a few books lately on materialism, and while some were written in a more accessible style, this one answered some of my basic questions about why people behave as they do, and what they are thinking. He also connected materialism to broader issues such as social cohesiveness and environmental resource use that other books, noteably "Dematerializing" ignore to their detriment.
It is not a "breezy" read, but the content is well worth it.
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