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The old saying goes something like, "Possessions don't make you happy." A more dire version is, "What you own, ends up owning you."

Are these old adages true or just the empty words of ancient party-poopers challenging you not to buy an iPhone 11? According to a new study of 968 young adults by the University of Arizona, being materialistic only brings us misery.

The study examined how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects the well-being of millenials. The study found two ways in which they modify their behaviors to help the environment: they either reduce what they consume or purchase green items.


Millennials who rate lower on the materialism scale usually reduce their consumption by repairing instead of replacing older items, avoiding impulse purchases, and not buying unnecessary items.

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Millenials who rate higher for the trait of materialism tend to purchase items that are"green to limit environmental impacts, such as goods made from recycled materials.

According to researchers, declining to buy a product is better for the environment than purchasing a green version of the item.

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The more materialistic participants in the study are reluctant to reduce their consumption to help the environment but aren't opposed to practice "green buying," such as buying paper straws instead of plastic.

Purchasing green products still allows them to exercise their materialistic urges and accumulate new items while helping the environment.

"If you are able to buy environmentally friendly products, you can still live your materialist values," University of Arizona researcher Sabrina Helm said according to Phys.Org.

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"You're acquiring new things, and that fits into our mainstream consumption pattern in our consumer culture, whereas reduced consumption is more novel and probably more important from a sustainability perspective," Helm continued.

When researchers looked at the psychological well-being of the non-materialists that reduced their consumption versus the materialists who kept swiping their cards for green purchases, the non-materialists did better for the environment and reported a better sense of well-being.

The materialists who substitute green products for their normal purchases showed that altering their consumer habits resulted in no improvement in overall well-being.

"We thought it might satisfy people that they participated in being more environmentally conscious through green buying patterns, but it doesn't seem to be that way," Helm said.

"Reduced consumption has effects on increased well-being and decreased psychological distress, but we don't see that with green consumption," she said.

"The key is to reduce consumption and not just buy green stuff. Having less and buying less can actually make us more satisfied and happier," Helm continued.

According to the study, one reason why materialistic people are less happy is that they aren't as proactive about their finances as less materialistic people. Those who have greater control over their spending report better personal well-being, life satisfaction, financial satisfaction, as well as lower psychological distress.

So when you're out shopping and you see an impulse buy and think, "That'll make me happy," think again. Not spending the money will be better for the environment, your pocketbook, and personal happiness.

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