Why are we so attached to things? Why do our possessions become extensions of the self? To answer these questions, we first need to understand the psychology of ownership. Jean Piaget – a founding father of child psychology – revealed something profound about human nature. After witnessing the “violent rage” shown by babies whenever they are deprived of an object they consider to be their own, Piaget discovered that we develop a sense of ownership in the early stages of life. By the age of two, children already understand what possessions are. By the age of six, children exhibit the ‘endowment effect’. This means that they place significant value on an object which belongs to them.
As children mature into teens, possessions become a central component in their lives. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that materialism (identified by choosing material goods in answer to ‘What makes me happy?’) peaked at middle adolescence. Lead researcher and psychologist Lan Chaplin explained that: “Giving children or adolescents a sense of self-worth and accomplishment seems to be quite an effective antidote to the development of materialism.” It is through adolescence that possessions become increasingly important and are used to define who we are, or at the very least, how we want to be viewed in society.
Along with the transition from adolescence to adulthood, comes the need to solidify our identity.The first car we buy or the first house we purchase often reflects our sense of self. Psychologist, Karen Lollar, was able to put this into perspective. She said: “The house is not merely a possession or a structure of unfeeling walls. It is an extension of my physical body and my sense of self that reflects who I was, am, and want to be.” The extent to which we see our material possessions as an extension of the self may partly depend on how confident we feel about who we are. Consumption can convey status and importance.There is a need to spend lavishly to attract friends and gain clout in the proverbial pecking order of society. Our possessions can afford us group membership, it can get us the guy or girl we like so much and it can, albeit momentarily, bring us happiness.
It is important to note that there is a difference between owning things and being owned by them. We often turn to the various material objects that companies have to offer in order to be happy and fulfilled. However, we have to remember that happiness is a state of mind and not an accumulation of pretty, shiny possessions which quickly lose their luster.
I am Luke Miller, content manager at Truth Theory and creator of Potential For Change. I like to blend psychology and spirituality to help you create more happiness in your life.Grab a copy of my free 33 Page Illustrated eBook- Psychology Meets Spirituality- Secrets To A Supercharged Life You Control Here