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Too much emphasis on money can lead to social isolation 

People who base their self-worth on financial success often end up feeling lonely and detached, according to a new study. Those who invest too much time in work may inadvertently put a strain on their most important relationships and social connections.

The research team, including experts from the University at Buffalo and Harvard Business School, set out to investigate why people who place a lot of emphasis on financial success tend to feel isolated in everyday life. 

“Feeling that pressure to achieve financial goals means we’re putting ourselves to work at the cost of spending time with loved ones, and it’s that lack of time spent with people close to us that’s associated with feeling lonely and disconnected,” explained study lead author Deborah Ward.

“When people base their self-worth on financial success, they experience feelings of pressure and a lack of autonomy, which are associated with negative social outcomes,” said study co-author Professor Lora Park.

The researchers emphasize that personal relationships play a significant role in positive mental health. Even when pursuing goals that are difficult and challenging, it is important to maintain strong social connections.

“Depression and anxiety are tied to isolation, and we’re certainly seeing this now with the difficulties we have connecting with friends during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ward. “These social connections are important. We need them as humans in order to feel secure, to feel mentally healthy and happy. But much of what’s required to achieve success in the financial domain comes at the expense of spending time with family and friends.”

The desire for wealth or financial success is not the biggest problem, according to Ward. Instead, the main issue is something that psychologists refer to as “financial contingency of self-worth.” 

When a person’s self-worth is defined by money, the individual feels worthless when they are struggling financially.

In a study that involved more than 2,500 participants, the researchers analyzed the potential link between financial contingency and self-worth. The team studied other key variables as well, such as social interaction and social disconnection. 

The participants kept a daily diary for two weeks, providing the researchers with insight into how they felt about money and how much time they spent socializing. 

“We saw consistent associations between valuing money in terms of who you are and experiencing negative social outcomes in previous work, so this led us to ask the question of why these associations are present,” said Ward. 

“We see these findings as further evidence that people who base their self-worth on money are likely to feel pressured to achieve financial success, which is tied to the quality of their relationships with others.”

“I hope this is part of what becomes a longer line of research looking at the mechanisms between valuing money and social-related variables. We don’t have the final answer, but there is a lot of evidence that pressures are largely playing a role.”

The study is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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