An interesting new study was brought to my attention by Phylameana lila Desy, About.com's Guide to Healing. She asks what offers the greatest happiness bang for your buck, experiences or material goods? The study published in the Journal of Consumer Research looked at whether experiences, such as going on a vacation, bring greater happiness than material acquisitions, such as purchasing a new car.
What brings the greatest happiness: Experiences or material possessions?
Photo © sanja gjenero
"Dating as early as David Hume and through Tibor Scitovsky and many others, the sentiment has been that individuals will be happier if they spend their money on experiences (theatre, concerts, and vacations) as opposed to material purchases (fancy cars, bigger houses, and gadgets)," the study's authors explain."
In one survey of more than 12,000 Americans, psychologist Leaf Van Boven found that people reported greater happiness from investing in life experiences rather than purchasing material goods. Van Boven suggests that the reason for this is that experiences are easier to interpret positively, contribute more to social relationships and are a more meaningful part of personal identity.
While it is generally believed that experiences trump possessions, the results of this study suggest that this isn't the case for everyone.
The study indicates that for positive purchases, the conventional wisdom that experiences have a higher happiness payoff is probably accurate. For purchases that turn out negatively, such as a low quality product or horrible vacation, experiences appear to decrease happiness more than material items.
While the authors caution consumers to make wise choices when making experiential purchases, they also agree with the standard belief that experiences result in greater happiness than material items. "Given a good probability of a positive experience, our research echoes past research in suggesting that money is well spent on vacations, concerts, amusement parks, and restaurants over comparably priced objects and trinkets," they suggest.
Leonardo Nicolao, Julie R. Irwin, and Joseph K. Goodman. (2009). Happiness for sale: Do experiential purchases make consumers happier than material purchases? Journal of Consumer Research.