People who hanker after fast cars and big houses are more likely to be depressed, angry and discontented with life, psychologists said yesterday.

A study of 1,400 Australians found that the people who were most materialistic were the least happy with life and conformed most to social norms.

The research, presented to the European Congress of Psychology in London, suggests that trying to "keep up with the Joneses" is a recipe for despair.

Dr Shaun Saunders and Dr Don Munroe, two psychologists from the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, interviewed five groups about their values and desires.

They found that those who hankered after expensive cars, clothes or houses, or who felt a strong need to impress others by their material possessions were significantly less happy with their lives.

"The more people believed that owning things would give them a sense of worth, the less happy they were with life in general," Dr Saunders said.