Buying Experience, Not Possessions, Brings More Joy

Buying experience

Buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness for consumers, suggests a new San Francisco State University psychology study.

The study demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased wellbeing because they satisfy higher order needs — specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality.

“These findings support an extension of basic need theory, where purchases that increase psychological need satisfaction will produce the greatest well-being,” said Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.

Participants in the study were asked to write reflections and answer questions about their recent purchases. Participants indicated that experiential purchases represented money better spent and greater happiness for both themselves and others. The results also indicate that experiences produce more happiness regardless of the amount spent or the income of the consumer.

Experiences also lead to longer-term satisfaction. “Purchased experiences provide memory capital,” said Howell. “We don’t tend to get bored of happy memories like we do with a material object.

“People still believe that more money will make them happy, even though 35 years of research has suggested the opposite,” noted Howell. “Maybe this belief has held because money is making some people happy some of the time, at least when they spend it on life experiences.”

“The mediators of experiential purchases: Determining the impact of psychological need satisfaction” was conducted by Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and SF State graduate Graham Hill.

It brings to mind a quote from the film American Beauty: “This isn’t life; it’s just stuff. And it’s become more important to you than living. Well, honey, that’s just nuts.”

At any rate, when consumers do invest in material possessions, companies can still strive to make the experience of the purchase positive and memorable.

One response to “Buying Experience, Not Possessions, Brings More Joy”

  1. Dave Hill says:

    I agree. While material goods is just stuff, retailers can make the experience of buying those things more pleasant and a memorable event.

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