Do experiences or material goods make us happier?

Feb 23, 2009

Should I spend money on a vacation or a new computer? Will an experience or an object make me happier? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says it depends on different factors, including how materialistic you are.

Even though conventional wisdom says choose the vacation, authors Leonardo Nicolao, Julie R. Irwin (both University of Texas at Austin), and Joseph K. Goodman (Washington University, St. Louis) say the answer is more complicated than previously thought.

"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)" write the authors.

The authors say this advice holds true for purchases that turn out well. But when it comes to negative purchases (a disappointing sofa, a bad vacation), their research shows that experiences decrease happiness more than material goods. "In other words, we show that the recommendation should include a caveat: Purchases that decrease happiness are less damaging when they are material purchases than when they are experiential purchases," the authors explain.

Highly materialistic individuals, the authors found, were equally happy with their positive purchases and equally unhappy with negative purchases whether they were experiences or material goods. The researchers also found that emotional intensity decreases more quickly after material purchases than experiential ones.

Consumers should be especially cautious when choosing among experiences, say the authors, because making a negative choice can lead to lasting unhappiness with the experience. Risky material purchases, on the other hand, are less potentially damaging.

Overall, the authors agree with conventional wisdom: "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 conclude.

More information: Leonardo Nicolao, Julie R. Irwin, and Joseph K. Goodman. "Happiness for Sale: Do Experiential or Material Purchases Lead to Greater Happiness?" Journal of Consumer Research: August 2009.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Publisher pushback puts open access in peril

Related Stories

Panoptes offers obstacle-avoidance system for drones

Mar 13, 2015

A device designed to deliver low-speed obstacle avoidance for drones, working indoors and outdoors, is being proposed in the form of the Panoptes eBumper4 from Panoptes Systems. No question, drones are going ...

Assuring solar modules will last for decades

Apr 14, 2015

The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is co-leading an international push to assure the reliability of solar panels—an assurance demanded by customers, manufacturers, lenders, ...

Graphene looking promising for future spintronic devices

Apr 10, 2015

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have discovered that large area graphene is able to preserve electron spin over an extended period, and communicate it over greater distances than had previously ...

Recommended for you

Top UK scientists warn against EU exit

14 hours ago

A group of leading British scientists including Nobel-winning geneticist Paul Nurse warned leaving the European Union could threaten research funding, in a letter published in The Times newspaper on Friday.

Publisher pushback puts open access in peril

May 21, 2015

Delegates at the The Higher Education Technology Agenda (THETA) conference on the Gold Coast last week heard from futurist Bryan Alexander about four possible scenarios for the future of knowledge. ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

THEY
not rated yet Feb 23, 2009
Yeah, I just can't be happy without my 41 foot yacht, my HUGE plasma screen tv, my summer beach home, my McMansion house in yuppieville OR my mercedes. If it wasn't for my owning all of that stuff, I would simply HAVE to throw myself off a bridge! I am so unhappy when I don't have my purchases!

Geez, what society has stepped in! And these people get PAID to do this kind of research?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.