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Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy

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As Roberts takes us through America’s history – a section of the book that lags at times – we find clues to how and why we are in this predicament: from the California Gold Rush of 1848 (which helped promote America’s “get rich quick” attitude), to General Motors’ introduction of yearly style changes (“Americans wanted to have a car … that could say something about who they were or what their socioeconomic status was”), to the federal government’s legislation regarding homeownership. “It is truly a legacy of shame,” Roberts writes.

If history isn’t enough to convince us we’ve gone awry, the research and statistics on happiness and materialism could do it. There are the experiments that show people with more money are less willing to help someone in need, and that people need to be merely reminded of money to be less generous. There’s the Life Satisfaction poll, which shows that Forbes magazine’s “richest Americans” are equally as happy – but no more so – than the Pennsylvania Amish or Inuit tribe of Northern Greenland.

Then there are studies that show materialism is associated with higher social anxiety, self-criticism, and time spent unhappy, and the ones that show “materialists report more headaches, colds, and bouts of flu than their less materialistic counterparts.”

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