A recent study was published in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences, outlining a basic truth that spiritual masters have known for eons. The study, done at the Department of Psychology and Neruoscience at Baylor University, showed that materialism has a direct correlation to lower levels of life satisfaction. In addition, the study specifically targeted how materialists find it harder to be grateful, which they connected to unmet psychological needs.
Of course this isn’t new information to any of the world’s spiritual masters. Back since the days of Buddha 2500 years ago the idea has been forwarded that the release of all attachments leads to liberation. Attachment of course means attachment to ideas, including the ideas that we need certain material objects in order to be happy in life.
Now… it’s no secret that a certain core set of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can certainly be helpful in allowing individuals to attain higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness. But as a teacher of emotional intelligence, and a proponent of a teaching I call the “Equation of Emotion” based on how the brain processes emotion, it is also extremely clear why materialists have a lower level of life satisfaction than other people when this “needs” train runs off the tracks.
In its most basic operation, the Equation of Emotion works like this: Our Expectations and/or Preferences (EPs) that are associated with our attachments of mind get compared to our Perceptions (RPs) within our mind and our perceptions and appraisals of the world around us. The EPs get put on one side of the scale. The RPs get put on the other. When our Expectations and/or Preferences (ideas) are matched by our Perceptions (also ideas), the scales balance out and positive emotions become the result. However when our Expectations and/or Preferences are not matched by our Perceptions, the scales become imbalanced and negative emotions become the result.
So as an example, if you have an attachment to a certain sports team, it becomes your Expectation and/or Preference that they win any game they play. So if they do win, the fact that they won becomes your Perception, and the Equation of Emotion is balanced. And that explains why you experience a positive emotion as a result of the outcome of the game. But if they lose, your Perception of that loss means the Equation of Emotion is imbalanced. Your EP was that they win, but your RP is they lost. And so you experience a negative emotion as a result of the outcome of the game. This is simply how the limbic and related emotions systems in the brain work as proven by cognitive neuroscience and the latest in emotions science.
In the writeup of the Baylor study, it is suggested that materialists are not happy because they are focusing on things they do not have instead of focusing on the things that they do have. And this conclusion fits hand in glove with what the Equation of Emotion predicts should happen. Because if it is our expectation and/or preference that we attain more or better material possessions than we currently have, our perception that we don’t have those things creates a solid and lasting imbalance in the Equation of Emotion. This subconsciously results in the creation of long-standing and resilient <strong>negative</strong> emotions until we finally attain (or never attain) the material stuff in question.
So this creates a negative emotion state that we can’t quite shake because we never have what we perceive that we want to have. Materialism at its finest.
But if that weren’t bad enough, here is the even bigger problem: What is worse than being nagged by a subconscious negative emotion state, is that even in the event of us attaining a coveted material thing (which indeed can create a short-term happiness over attaining the object), what happens after that is that the mind integrates that material thing into our attachment map. It then becomes “ours” and it becomes an Expectation or Preference that becomes old hat. And then also… maybe our perception of having the thing starts to change because of the new thing we learned about the other day that we now want instead.
If we were to only break this pattern, and simply reflect on all that we already had, and decide to be grateful for all we have, regardless of how humble that list was, it would be a natural occurrence for us to slip into a much happier state of mind than we experienced when we were chasing our not-yet-attained material item. Our Equation of Emotion would be balanced. But the problem with that is because of our thought patterns of creating perceptions of wanting more than we currently have, we wind up falling right into that same pattern of wanting whatever is that is next… beyond what IS… right now. We wind up being doomed to continue creating new perceptions about new or better material crap that we currently don’t have, which of course creates another long-term imbalance in the Equation of Emotion. And the negative emotions are often the races again. And in fact, this is exactly the opinion of the lead PhD who authored the Baylor article, Dr. Jo-Ann Tsang:
“Our ability to adapt to new situations may help explain why ‘more stuff’ doesn’t make us any happier. As we amass more and more possessions, we don’t get any happier — we simply raise our reference point. That new 2,500-square-foot house becomes the baseline for your desires for an even bigger house. It’s called the Treadmill of Consumption. We continue to purchase more and more stuff but we don’t get any closer to happiness, we simply speed up the treadmill.”
It is a spiritual and scientific truth that feeling grateful for whatever small or large amount of things (and people, and life situations, and experiences) we have in our life creates the mindset to be able to live a happier and more fulfilled life. For if we are focusing on the things that we already have, and are grateful for those things, regardless of how long that list may be, we will always have a balanced Equation of Emotion (which will of course then generate positive emotions as a result). However if we are focusing on the things that we do NOT have, we are simply laying the framework to exist in a persistent negative emotion state. We can try to convince ourselves that we are a positive person, and a go-getter who is capable of attaining all the material possessions on our bucket list, but the simple fact of neuroscience is that the entire time we will be creating the conditions for an underlying and even subconscious negative emotion state that sucks the energy out of our satisfaction and enjoyment of life (as proven yet again by this latest Baylor study).
Who wants to live their life like that? Well… apparently the people not educated enough to know that because they attach their happiness to material things, they sabotage their ability to actually ever attain and retain happiness in the long term.
I always thought it was interesting how “The Law of Attraction” proponents teach a model that is in direct contradiction of spiritual and scientific understanding. They teach to focus on the things that you don’t have that you think you want, and somehow through the magic of the universe those things will appear in your life. They teach that through the non-locality of quantum physics your thoughts can somehow reach out into the ether and align physical actions to occur that manifest your every desire. And besides these teachings proving that “The Law of Attraction” folks have absolutely no grasp on the actual science of quantum physics, their teachings actually also lead people into a mental environment that will not only NOT lead the practitioner to happiness, but will indeed lead them into the minefield of perpetual negative emotional responses.
The spiritual analog to this message comes from the Buddha. “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” It is only within our conscious shift of our perceptions to match and be grateful for what we already have… and/or the removal of attachments to what we think we need… that creates the conditions for a persistent and even lifelong happiness.
Epicurus stated it this way:
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
May You Find Peace,
Powered by Facebook Comments