Material purchases can bring as much happiness as experiential ones — it’s just of a different type, a new study finds.
The finding is fascinating because until now studies have suggested that experiential purchases are superior.
Experiential purchases include things like holidays, concert tickets or visits to a spa.
Material purchases, though, can provide just as much pleasure in the long-run, the new research suggests.
For the study, people were asked to keep track of their levels of happiness five times a day over two weeks.
The study compared the effects of material purchases, like portable speakers and coffee makers, with experiential purchases, like tickets to a hockey game or a weekend ski trip.
The results showed that experiential purchases provided short intense bursts of pleasure which tended to fade away.
In contrast, material purchases brought repeated smaller doses of happiness over the weeks.
However, when people looked back at their purchases six weeks later, it was the experiences that gave them more satisfaction.
So, perhaps experiences still have the edge.
Mr Aaron Weidman, the study’s first author, said:
“The decision of whether to buy a material thing or a life experience may therefore boil down to what kind of happiness one desires.
Consider a holiday shopper deciding between tickets to a concert or a new couch in the living room.
The concert will provide an intense thrill for one spectacular night, but then it will end, and will no longer provide momentary happiness, aside from being a happy memory.
In contrast, the new couch will never provide a thrilling moment to match the concert, but will keep the owner snug and comfortable each day throughout the winter months.”
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science (Weidman & Dunn, 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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