Why we're wired to want more stuff and the psychology of materialism

88) BW Tim Kasser talks Sustainability on Green Dreamer Podcast with Kamea Chayne (1).jpg

Why are we wired to be drawn to new things constantly and feel a sense of security (at least in the short term) from the accumulation of more stuff? Why should the psychology of materialism actually make us hopeful about our abilities to work towards a less materialistic and more sustainable future? 

Sharing his wisdom with us here is Dr. Tim Kasser, author of five books including his latest one, Hypercapitalism, and a psychology professor at Knox College in Illinois. He's written over 100 scientific articles and chapters on materialism, values, ecological sustainability, quality of life, and more. Let's dive in.

This is a conversation on Green Dreamer Podcast with Kaméa Chayne, a show exploring environmental and intersectional sustainability from ideas to life. Subscribe to Green Dreamer on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or any podcast app and let’s learn what it takes to thrive in every sense of the word!


[2:14] What first inspired Tim's passion for the environment. 

[5:19] Kaméa: "What led you to focus on materialism, life quality, and sustainability in your research?" 

[8:40] How Tim defines materialism in his research and how we can measure it. 

[10:31] Kaméa: "What influences how materialistic someone is?" 

[15:49] Tim explains why we innately want the latest and greatest things. 

[17:34] Tim: "It's our use of tools that, as a species, we've relied on over and over again when times get tough... There is something really deep in us as a species which orients us towards those material things because they helped us survive for a really long time.

[19:21] Tim discusses the problem with our current social, political, and economic system and how it does everything it can to encourage people to consume. 

[20:36] Kaméa: "Since it wasn't always this way, what about our world has changed in order to encourage mindless materialism?" 

[23:47] Kaméa: "What are the latest findings in terms of what we can do to improve our life quality, without being sucked into materialism?" 

[23:57] How ad-blocking, mindfulness, and value pie can make a huge impact in our materialism and wellbeing. 

[28:48] Tim discusses the motivation and message of his newest cartoon book, Hypercapitalism

[30:51] Kaméa: "What do you think we need most today in order to collectively redefine what it means to live well so that we can actually accelerate toward better life quality and a sustainable planet?" 

[31:41] Tim: "As somebody who's been writing about capitalism and talking about it for a long time, I see an opening now that didn't used to be here. Since the 2008 financial crisis, you can talk about capitalism and you can even start to point out some of its difficulties and some of its pains that it brings along. I think we really need to look long and hard at the system that drives our economy and our politics and start to develop better and new things."   

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Dr. Tim Kasser


To follow: "All I read is my local newspaper or the occasional New Yorker."

Words of inspiration: “This is the one life I have as me, so don't waste it." 

Health tip: "For my physical health, I'm outside doing something every day. For my mental health, I play the piano and sing every day." 

Green tip: "I've been in the vegetable garden much more intensively in the last three months than ever before." 

Element of hope: "Intrinsic values not only suppress materialistic values, but they're associated with being happier, being nicer, and living more sustainably. And so it's actually a fairly simple solution if we can figure out how to do it in our lives and organizations." 

Words of Wisdom: "Go do whatever it is you can do the next few months. Don't try to do everything in the next six months. Once they're solidified, then pick the next one or two things you can do."   

Two Takeaways