Saturday, May 21, 2011

Love, Money and Stuff

A recent article in Time Magazine reported a new psychology study that reveals that "people who feel loved and accepted by others place lower monetary values on material possessions than folks who feel insecure and unloved." When people don't feel valued and appreciated by other people, they turn to stuff to fill the emotional and relational void.

There are many psychological studies on how we compensate when we don't get what we really need. Most addictions are rooted in this kind of compensating behavior. And because the secondary source we turn to (food, work, money, stuff)often still leaves us feeling incomplete in some way, we keep wanting more and more. We can't get enough of what we don't really need.

And at some level, deep down inside, we just plain need what we really need. Love, connection, feeling that we matter, and feeling welcome are primal human needs, necessary for psychological survival and well-being. The pain of NOT getting what we really need is so great, we build strong fortresses around our hearts, to numb out the pain that comes from not knowing how to get what we really need.

"People value possessions, in part, because they afford a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort," UNH psychology professor Edward Lemay reflects. "But what we found was that if people already have a feeling of being loved and accepted by others, which also can provide a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort, those possessions decrease in value."

This brings to mind the experiments we studied in Psychology 101 about cloth and wire monkeys. When baby monkeys were removed from their mothers, researchers gave some a hard wire substitute monkey to hold on to, and others a soft, clothbound substitute mother monkey. The baby monkeys who at least had the comfort and warmth of the cloth, fared better than the baby monkeys who had the cold, hard wire as their only contact. Truthfully, both sets of monkeys would have been much happier if they had simply been left with their living, breathing monkey moms. However, given the experiment required leaving their real moms, having some literal creature comforts was critical for well-being.

Funny how we can make "things" creature comforts when we can't get comfort from real creatures! And it is no surprise that when humans let us down, abandon us, are not available or just don't know how to connect, cats and dogs provide the real creature comfort that human beings deeply crave.

Here's to love, connection and warmth from real human beings!

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