Self-centeredness and materialism are two of the topics Richard Wiseman touches on in his book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. Wiseman looks at how making purchases affects our happiness, and compares spending money on items versus spending money on experiences. As he explains, research suggests that spending money on experiences leads to greater and more sustained happiness by creating social interactions leading to positive memories and stories for the future.
Wiseman continues to dive into the world of shopping and happiness and explains a study by Elizabeth Dunn which evaluated peoples scores on a questionnaire meant to measure their level of materialism. The study asked what the individuals would do if they had $40,000 to spend. “Materialists spend, on average, three times as much on things for themselves as they do on things for others,” Wiseman writes, “Also, when they are asked to rate statements about the degree to which they care for others (“i enjoy having guests stay in my house,” “I often lend things to my friends”), they end up giving far more self-centered responses.” Wiseman’s section on materialism is not surprising. Our culture pushes us to want to be impressive and to make purchases that will display our success and high status. The research shows that people who are more materialistic tend to also act in more self-centered ways. Wiseman continues to explain Dunn’s research, “from the perspective of happiness, this self-centeredness can have a detrimental effect on people’s happiness.”
What Wiseman explains is that our brains are wired to make us social creatures. We depend on and rely on others, and when it comes to spending money to make us happy, purchasing experiences that can bring us closer to others is more effective than purchasing items for ourselves.
I am currently working on a book called Return on Character by Fred Kiel, in which he examines leaders in the business world, their character, and the performance of their enterprise. What Kiel’s research shows is that those CEO’s who tend to be more self-focused don’t produce the same results as CEO’s who are more caring, empathetic, and operate with a strong character. This is in line with Wiseman’s findings about happiness and self-centeredness. Those CEO’s who are self-focused are more likely to be materialistic, less likely to be happy, and don’t stick to the same values and morals that drive the (as Kiel puts them) virtuoso CEO’s. When your company is run by people who are less happy and act in self-centered ways, the leadership team is likely to be less interactive with employees, and they are less likely to create a work environment based on integrity and positivity. This in turn can bring the entire company apart, as apposed to creating an organization that pulls all of its members together.