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Overcoming Materialism During the Holidays

Dec. 3, 2008

Over the years, Americans have found themselves on the seemingly endless treadmill of consumption and materialism, believing that money and the accumulation of material possessions are directly related to happiness and overall quality of life. But an upcoming book by a Baylor University business professor focuses on ways Americans can hop off the materialism bandwagon and improve their sense of self, the quality of their interactions with others, and their willingness to get involved in community affairs and social issues.

In "Shiny Objects: How We Lost Our Way On The Road To The American Dream - And How We Can Find Our Way Back," Dr. James A. Roberts, professor of marketing and The W.A. Mays Professor of Entrepreneurship at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, looks at what can be done to lessen Americans' preoccupation with material possessions.

Roberts says it is not easy, but there are a number of simple steps Americans can take to break the chains of materialism, beginning with:

  • Programming your environment (personal space) - "It's easier to avoid temptation than it is to resist it. This involves creating an environment that makes it easier to not spend money, such as avoiding the malls and TV (fans the flames), shopping without credit cards and only with cash, paying yourself first and using a 24-hour cooling off period for big purchases," Roberts says.
  • Programming your behavior - "Rewarding or punishing to encourage desired behaviors - I call this the carrot or the stick. This is basic psychology 101 but is very effective," Roberts says. "Use rewards to increase the likelihood of desired behaviors and use punishments to decrease their likelihood. Social contracts are where you involve others in this process through a written document."

Roberts' book also looks at additional consumer topics, such as:

  • Prosperity Gospel - "If it's not enough that retailers want our money during the holidays, apparently God does, too," Roberts says. "Some people in the church say that money and possessions are the way to happiness."
  • Spending Money - Cash talks and everything else walks. How we pay for our purchases makes all the difference, he says.
  • Treadmill of Consumption - To quote Mick Jagger, "I can't get no satisfaction," and it's because we keep setting our sights higher with each new purchase, Roberts says.

Roberts is a well-known marketing scholar who researches consumer behavior, including materialism, compulsive buying, credit card abuse and self-control. He has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, including USA TODAY, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger's Personal Finance and "ABC World News Tonight."

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