The Value of an Object (or You)

This question of value that we have been discussing throughout the semester in regard to objects and how they relate to the human influences around them is one that I have decided has no singular conclusion. In a former blog post, I used Graham Hill's TED Talk on the relationship between possession accumulation and stress to attempt to highlight the problems that can arise by attaching too much value to something like an inanimate object in conjunction with having a focus on accumulation of objects as possessions. While I do think that there is good value in forming sentimental bonds and emotional attachments to objects, I also believe that assigning too much value can have a detrimental effect on happiness. For example, I have a friend who loves expensive shoes. They have more shoes than I could possibly imagine being able to wear in one year unless there were multiple midday swaps. However, this habit of accumulation has actually substantially increased the levels of stress in this person's life because if there is a stretch of time where no new shoes have been bought, they become very anxious and I will find them pouring through Pintrest and Etsy in search of the perfect pair of shoes to calm the mounting storm of anxiety. Recently, with our discussions of material culture in mind, I tried to (very delicately) ask my friend why expensive shoes are such a huge part of their life and if they think that their need to accumulate them alleviates or adds to their stress levels. They very candidly told me that it definitely adds stress. However, they made the point that they have become known amongst our friends, co-workers, and peers as the person with the "kick ass" sense of style and they start to feel like they are stagnating if they do not continue to accumulate possessions that reflect this perception of them. This then led to a discussion on what the relevance is between self-esteem and material possessions. The result of that conversation was that we both agreed that everyone has at least some facet of the tendency to attach value to objects and that this perceived value affects their social psychology.

shopping

 

(These shoes made by Versace will run you about $2,000. Would owning these bring you pleasure or stress from the cost? Even if you can afford it, what do $2,000 shoes do for you? Photo courtesy of Versace.)

I guess where I'm going with all this is that there is a definite, perceptible relationship between the value that we assign objects and the value that we assign to ourselves - whether we decide to acknowledge it at varying levels or not. So, when we buy a new car, gadget, or doorknob I believe there is a part of the psyche that assigns greater value to ourselves with that new acquisition. Disregarding any moral or ethical cultural judgment that could be discerned from that notion, this idea of "value" that has been discussed throughout the semester is something that can be studied and measured through the analysis of spending habits, stress levels, and the impact of things like media and advertisement on the consumer culture. Hill's TED Talk on the relationship between stress and the need to accumulate possessions is only one of many sources that can be referenced. Kinneavy, Kilmer, Prown, and Roberts all argue aspects of why objects and material things have such an impact on our culture and psychology.

4 thoughts on “The Value of an Object (or You)”

  1. I read a study (published in Neuron) where researchers looked at what happens in the brain when we think about purchasing something. When an image of a product flashed before the subject’s eyes, an area of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens, lit up when they liked what they saw. Essentially, the brain’s pleasure center kicks into gear and floods the brain with dopamine at the very thought of getting something we want. Another study showed that even though we may crave these materialistic possessions, they do not make us any happier in the long run. The study documents that “strong materialist values are associated with pervasive undermining of people’s well-being, from low life satisfaction to happiness, to depression and anxiety, to physical problems such as headaches, and to personality disorders, narcissistic, and antisocial behaviors.” This is probably associated with extreme purchasing impulses, but it still shows the negative outcomes of uncontrollable desires. I can speak through my personal experience. There were many times when I bought something, thinking that I would be happier since I finally got what I’ve been wanting; but after couple of weeks, I got tiered of it, or wanted something else to replace it. It’s human nature to want and desire things, but we shouldn’t depend on them to enhance our emotions.

    Source:
    http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(06)00904-4

  2. I completely agree with the angle that you approached the prompt. I gathered that we sometimes place a value on things based on the perception of others, like you said that your friend is known for her “kick-ass” style. That reputation of possessing certain objects to fulfill her image have added unnecessary stresses on her as a person. I feel that objects as a whole can do this. We have this expectation with it comes to objects and how the object is suppose to improve the validity of our existence. Humans have often neglected a stable psyche to appeal to the expectation of objects. It is sometimes quite scary.

  3. I like the angle you have taken about the value of things, particularly with the shoes. I have a great love of shoes, and I think my collection is still just a few pairs shy of completion. But I do know that buying these shoes, or whatever thing I have placed value in at the moment, gives me only a momentary satisfaction. Perhaps it’s not things that have the value, but our own attempt to find the divine in the physical world.

  4. I like how you talk about your friend who own many different shoes and seems to obsessively purchase them. If she constantly buys new shoes though can value each she that she own?
    I’ve been interested in the subject of feminism and the question of how women are valued lately. Is it possible that despite popular belief women are actually more valued than men in society, and this is evident by they way they are treated? For example, women and children are often the first people guided to safety in dangerous situations. A man is expected to protect women and maybe even risk his life for them. As a woman, I have never had to sign up to be drafted. Is it possible that women are valued in this way because they used to be inherently more valuable because of the way humans reproduce?
    Theoretically, one man could impregnate hundreds of women a year, but a woman can only give birth once a year. This meant that when populations were low it was always good to have more healthy women around.

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