A Meta-Analysis of the Relationships Between Happiness, Materialism and Spirituality in the U.S. and Singapore

ABSTRACT - This study examines relationships between three central human concepts. From national probability samples of adults in the United States and in Singapore, we measured materialism, religious experience, and happiness (or, life satisfaction).



Citation:

William R. Swinyard, Ah-Keng Kau, and Hui-Yin Phua (2002) ,"A Meta-Analysis of the Relationships Between Happiness, Materialism and Spirituality in the U.S. and Singapore", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 246-247.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 246-247

A META-ANALYSIS OF THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN HAPPINESS, MATERIALISM AND SPIRITUALITY IN THE U.S. AND SINGAPORE

William R. Swinyard, Brigham Young University, U.S.A.

Ah-Keng Kau, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Hui-Yin Phua, National University of Singapore, Singapore

ABSTRACT -

This study examines relationships between three central human concepts. From national probability samples of adults in the United States and in Singapore, we measured materialism, religious experience, and happiness (or, life satisfaction).

Concepts

We conceptualized materialism using Richins and Dawson (1992) schema, which proposes that materialism involves three themes or dimensions: "acquisition centrality" (in which individuals may place possessions and their acquisition at the center of their lives), "acquisitions as the pursuit of happiness" (the view that acquisition is a means of achieving happiness), and "possessions as defining success" (in which individuals may judge their own and others’ success by the number and quality of possessions accumulated).

Religiosity is defined using the two traditional intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions of religiosity (Haerich, 1992; McFarland, 1989), and an additional third dimension suggested by Batson (1976) and Batson and Ventis (1982). This is "religion as quest"at dimension involves openly facing complex, existential questions and resisting pat answers. An individual who approaches religion in this way recognizes that he or she does not know, and probably never will know, the final truth about such matters (Batson and Schoenrade, 1991a, 1991b).

Life satisfaction or happiness was measured using a single item scale. A single item scale was used because it has been reported that single-item measures of life satisfaction are as valid and reliable as measures based on multiple items (Heady, Holmstrom and Wearing, 1984). Further, a single-item measure would help to keep our questionnaire concise so as to facilitate response rate.

Hypotheses

Many U.S. studies have shown a negative correlation between materialism and life satisfaction (Belk, 1985; Richins, 1987; Richins and Dawson, 1992). These scholars propose that materially oriented people may be continually dissatisfied with their lives since their material goals constantly outpace them. This suggests our first hypothesis, that there is a negative relationship between materialism and happiness.

The literature also supports the notion that individuals having high intrinsic religiosity have a greater sense of well-being (Ellison, 1991). Hence our second hypothesis, that there is a positive relationship between intrinsic religiosity and life satisfaction. For our third hypothesis we can point to no previous research, but a review of the literature suggests that there should be a positive relationship between extrinsic religiosity and life satisfaction.

Finally, it has been found that "religion as quest" is associated with religious conflict and anxiety (Kojetin, McIntosh, Bridges and Spilka, 1987). Religion as quest appears positively associated with worry and guiltCcharacteristics likely associated with less happiness. Therefore, we hypothesize that there is a negative relationship between the religious attitude "religion as quest" and life satisfaction.

Method

The research underlying this study was conducted in the U.S. and in Singapore by means of a meta-analytic study of adults within the two respective countries. In the U.S. portion of the study, data about the above issues were collected by means of a probability mailing to a nationally representative sample of 2000 U.S. adults. The study included an initial mailout (questionnaire, letter, return envelope) and two follow-up mailings. The initial mailout contained a questionnaire, a cover letter (to communicate the study’s importance and to stimulate respondents’ interest in participating), and a return envelope. One week after the initial mailout a postcard reminder was sent to everyone, which served as a reminder for those that had not yet responded. Of the initial mailout 425 usable questionnaires were returned, for a final response rate of 21.3 percent.

As with the U.S. data, the Singapore data were collected via sampling among adults. The questionnaire was in English-not a significant limitation as English is widely spoken as one of the country’s official languages (and the language of government, education, and business). Questionnaires were personally distributed through intercept sampling over a period of six weeks, in a variety of public locations. Methods were used to assure that a wide and representative range of Singaporean adults would be sampled. Once distributed, all questionnaires were self-administered, with the interviewer nearby but not administering the questions. A total of 400 questionnaires were distributed, of which 314 were returned (293 usable), for a 73.25 percent usable response rate.

Results

Although we had not predicted a difference in overall happiness between the U.S. and Singapore, U.S. respondents reported significantly higher happiness than those in Singapore (means: U.S., 5.79 vs Singapore, 4.79, t=4.674, p<0.001). Correspondingly, U.S. respondents were less materialistic than Singapore ones (means: U.S., 2.40 vs Singapore, 2.56, t=6.32, p<0.001).

The relationship between life satisfaction and materialism was tested by means of regression analysis, weighted by the covariate of gross monthly income to control for its effect on material values. As hypothesized, the data for both the United States and Singapore showed a significant negative relationship between life satisfaction and overall materialism (U.S: t=-3.35, p<0.001; Singapore: t=-2.02, p<0.05). Examining the regression results for each country along the the materialism sub-scales, however, were mixed. Only "acquisitions as the pursuit of happiness" showed a significant negative relationship with life satisfaction.

Our remaining hypotheses dealt with expected relationships between life satisfaction and religiosity. We expected a positive relationship with religion as an "end" and as a "means," but a negative one with religion as "quest." We did find religiosity differences between the two countries. U.S. adults were found to be higher than Singapore ones in extrinsic religiosity (t=2.67, p<0.05) and in intrinsic religiosity (t=18.52, p<0.001), while Singapore adults are higher in religion as quest (t=1.96, p<0.05). Again, regression analysis was used to assess the relationships between religiosity and happiness. We controlled for age, as it was expected (and found) that respondent age would be related to religious maturity and experience.

Conclusion

It was expected and found that life satisfaction is negatively related to overall materialism in both the U.S. and in Singapore, although happiness’ relationship with the three materialism sub-scales was mixed. We observed that adults in Singapore are less happy and more materialistic than those in the U.S. It was expected that happiness would have a positive relationship with intrinsic religiosity and extrinsic religiosity, but a negative relationship with religion as quest. Though our results largely support these hypotheses, they produce some unexpected differences between the two countries and across the three religiosity dimensions.

Intrinsic religiosity was found in both countries to positively affect quality of life. We found that people who look upon their religious experience as personal, central, and spiritual are more satisfied with their lives than others. This should not surprise those who believe that joy and inner peace are converge with happiness, and that all of these concepts are related to an inner spiritual alignment. That these results were found in both the U.S., a largely Judeo-Christian nation, as well as Singapore, a largely Buddhist or Hindu nation, lends universality to this finding: that intrinsically religious people, those genuinely committed to their personal spiritual precepts, report that they are happier than others. This suggests that happiness is not associated with people’s material accumulation but with their perceived inner world. And happy people see their religion not so much as something they "do" as what they "are."

It is self-evident however that advertisers wish us to believe that our lives will become somehow more satisfying if we accumulate more and more things. It will surprise no-one that we found this notion to be wrong. Yet for advertisers, this sell works. They would have us believe that all we need to be happy is yet one more material thing. But that final material acquisition is illusive and ever out of reach. The net result is not greater happiness, but less.

References

Batson C.D. (1976): "Religion as Prosocial: Agent or Double Agent?", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 15, 1, 29-45.

Batson C.D. and P.A. Schoenrade (1991a): "Measuring Religion as Quest: 1) Validity Concerns", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 30, 4, 416-429.

Batson C.D. and P.A. Schoenrade (1991b): "Measuring Religion as Quest: 2) Reliability Concerns", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 30, 4, 430-447.

Batson C.D. and W.L. Ventis (1982): The Religious Experience: A Social-Psychological Perspective. New York, Oxford University Press.

Belk R.W. (1985): "Materialism: Trait Aspects of Living in the Material World", Journal of Consumer Research, 12, 265-279.

Ellison C.G. (1991): "Religious Involvement and Subjective Well-Being", Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 32 (March), 80-99.

Haerich P. (1992): "Premarital Sexual Permissiveness And The Religious Orientation: A Preliminary Investigation", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 31, 361-365.

Kojetin B.A., D.N. McIntosh, R.A. Bridges and B. Spilka (1987): "Quest: Constructive Search Or Religious Conflict?", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 26, 1, 111-115.

McFarland S.G. (1989): "Religious Orientations And The Targets Of Discrimination", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 28, 324-336.

Richins M.L. and S. Dawson (1990), "Measuring Material Values: A Preliminary Report on Scale Development," Advances in Consumer Research, 17, 352-356.

Richins M.L. (1987): "Media, Materialism, and Human Happiness", Advances in Consumer Research, 14, 352-356.

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Authors

William R. Swinyard, Brigham Young University, U.S.A.
Ah-Keng Kau, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Hui-Yin Phua, National University of Singapore, Singapore



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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