Recently, a research by Frof. Eli Somer of the University of Haifa and Dr. Ayalla Ruvio of Temple University in Philadelphia PA. argued that the more materialistic people are, the more they will go on a shopping spree when exposed to trauma. I was intrigued by the claiming that materialism can predict how people cope with stress, asking what materialism is and how it is defined just to find out that we all are materialistic. We all acquire and own material goods, or goods that have some monetary worth to achieve life goals and desire states. Put it simply we all spend money unnecessarily not only for satisfying our basic needs but for achieving higher goals. Sounds familiar? Isn’t this an example of luxury behaviour when we overspend needlessly?
Somer and Ruvio conducted their research in Sderot, a southern Israeli town which was exposed to non-stop rocket and missile fire from Gaza terrorists for over eight years. I had an opportunity to host children from Sderot and witness how much those children suffered from this long-term exposure to stress. To alleviate this taxing stress people went on shopping spree time and again. While the less materialistic people coped with the continuous exposure to danger by seeking social support the more materialistic ones were more oriented toward objects than humans.
Did this materialistic consumption help people to cope with their stress? The authors posit that “The results of this study also suggest that the pleasures of shopping cannot attenuate posttraumatic distress, and that maladaptive shopping behaviours increase with the level of traumatic exposure.”
Do you agree with these results? In my opinion, the researchers stopped too early and didn’t ask the “how” and “why” questions. Materialism is part of our life and people need it and use it to satisfy their needs, especially that of enhancing their self-esteem. With continuous exposure to danger it is a never-ending fight and people need to remind themselves of the importance of their self. Some seek professional support and some turn to purchasing objects. However, the purchasing activity, per-se won’t help in extreme situation such as non-stop terroristic aggression over many years. What might subconsciously help in mild situation won’t help in these extreme cases without understanding consciously why we overspend needlessly and how this overspending can help us coping with stress.
I don’t think that materialistic behaviour is counterproductive as the researchers argue. I do agree that the behaviour by itself might even increase the post-traumatic stress symptoms if people do not deeply understand the “why” and “how” of luxury. And from materialistic point of view it is possible that it would be cheaper to let people go on conscious and deeply understood buying spree than sending them to therapy. What do you think?