It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Some of our respondents were upset by our questions about special objects and told us that they were not materialists, and things mean nothing to them. It is people, not objects that count. … This rejection of the symbolic mediation of things in favor of direct human ties seemed plausible at first, until we began to notice that … [t]hose who were most vocal about prizing friendship over material concerns seemed to be the most lonely and isolated. … Those who have ties to people tend to represent them in concrete objects.” (The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton, via Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin)
What a great argument for the pack rats among us! There are so many cases being made for the simpler life these days. Minimalism is the counter-message in a world filled with iphones, ipads, ipods, and a pair of shoes for every occasion. I feel like I’ve read countless articles and seen plenty of talk show segments about families who have tossed all their stuff and now live in a yurt somewhere with only their loved ones and a fire to cook rice on. (I think I just combined an Oprah episode and the premise of Survivor.) The message seems to be that we don’t need so much stuff, that possessions distract us from what really matters–friends, family, relationships.
But according to this research, people who deny the importance of possessions and instead insist it is only relationships that matter actually feel lonelier. This is because, as Gretchen Rubin explains, we “use possessions to memorialize important relationships and experiences.” If your BFF lives in California and you live on the East Coast, you might display a picture frame with a great photo of the two of you, or a paperweight you bought on a trip together. (Or, if you’re me, a mug of butterbeer you bought on a wizarding adventure. Whatevs.) The sight of these possessions will remind you of your bestie and make you feel more connected, even if you don’t see her often enough. It’s through an object’s associations that it becomes special, and in turn fends off loneliness.
This is not an argument for hoarding. Having piles of crap around your house is not going to make you feel less isolated. But it is an argument for sentimental objects. My dad used to say “When in doubt, throw it out.” I think there’s some truth to that. But if you just can’t bear to toss those old song packets from your summer camp days (guilty) at least know that they’re more than just lists of lyrics, but relics that help you feel connected.
Do you hold onto objects that you associate with some of your best relationships or memories? Or are you a “people over objects” person? Are you surprised that the people who claim to value people over possessions were actually found to be more lonely?