The Beatles may have sold us on the notion that money can't buy us love, but what about happiness? In Shiny Objects, veteran marketer and professor of consumer behavior James A. Roberts pulls back the curtain on advertising, the American Dream and contemporary consumerism in an attempt to encourage reflection on spending habits and a return to non-material pursuits.
Two parts sociology and one part self-help, Shiny Objects contains a thorough review of the literature related to spending and happiness. Roberts calls attention to the deep contradiction between Americans' stated belief that material possessions cannot make us happy and the undeniable fact that we continue to buy as if they will. Additionally, numerous studies indicate that happiness is largely biologically determined--that we inherit it rather than acquire it--so though we may feel a boost in happiness immediately after a purchase, it is short-lived. We quickly adapt to the "new normal" and begin looking for the next acquisition and the next temporary bump. Roberts calls this the "treadmill of consumption," and he cites evidence that pursuit of material possessions (and the long hours of work and stress required to pay for them) is inversely related to well-being, self-acceptance, personal relationships, community involvement and other indicators of social, psychological and physical health. In fact, the primary difference between happy people and unhappy people is not income, homeownership or the number of gadgets owned, but social relationships. Accordingly, Roberts encourages readers to check their consumer behaviors and rededicate themselves to pursuing relationships and avocations that can lead to genuine happiness, and he provides quizzes, checklists and basic cognitive-behavior tools to help them do so.
But Shiny Objects is about more than research. Roberts reveals marketing techniques and ploys in hopes that informed consumers will be less likely to fall prey to them, and he explores the social models that prop up our materialistic values, from the American Dream to the increasingly popular prosperity gospel, to the product placement that is rampant in entertainment (there are 205 product placements in the average episode of The Biggest Loser!). Giving readers a wealth of information to parse, Roberts--who cannot seem to decide if he is a theorist, a therapist or both--offers an intellectual approach to an emotionally charged subject and suggests concrete changes readers can effect in their lives and environments to escape from materialism and build lives with real meaning. --Rebecca Joines Schinsky
Shelf Talker: An intellectual approach to an emotionally charged subject--consumerism--with suggestions on how to escape materialism and build a life with real meaning.