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.
(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.