Study: Experiences Bring More Happiness Than Stuff

If you asked me to name my favorite “purchases,” I’d be much more likely to rattle off vacations I’ve taken, operas and ballets I’ve seen, and nice dinners I’ve had — rather than any things that I’ve bought.

Well, it seems I’m not the only one. A new study shows that experience-related purchases, rather than material ones, bring more happiness to the consumer:

“The results show that people’s satisfaction with their life-experience purchases – anything from seeing a movie to going on a vacation – tends to start out high and go up over time. On the other hand, although they might be initially happy with that shiny new iPhone or the latest in fashion, their satisfaction with these items wanes with time.” Click here to read the entire article…

In short, the study explains that material purchases are easy to compare, and therefore more likely to lead to second-guessing and dissatisfaction. For example, we may worry that we didn’t get a good deal on our new car, or feel it isn’t up to par with our neighbor’s.

However, we tend to regard experiences on their own terms, instead of making comparisons. We’re unlikely (or unable) to judge our trip to Hawaii versus our neighbor’s trip, and therefore experience more satisfaction from it.

The results of the study confirm previous research on the topic, and were published in the January issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

I’ve discussed this matter with people in the past, and some have made the argument that when you purchase an experience (such as a European vacation), you have nothing to “show for it” afterwards; whereas a diamond ring, on the other hand, you can keep forever.

I’ve never been comfortable with that reasoning, and feel that memories of an experience are just as significant as a tangible object. I also feel that material purchases bring on a slew of other worries and responsibilities, such as cleaning, maintaining, insuring, repairing, and storing the item in question. Therefore, I’d take the European vacation over the diamond ring any day!

What do you think? Do you get more pleasure from material purchases, or experiential ones?

46 comments to Study: Experiences Bring More Happiness Than Stuff

  • I think of experiences versus stuff this way: no one can ever take an experience from you, you can’t loose it, break it or tarnish it. It’s here as long as you are–longer if it affects someone else.

    Nice post.

  • That is a very interesting post. I agree with you that I would take the European vacation or any vacation over a diamond ring any day. There have been a couple of materialistic items that have brought me much pleasure though. One is my iPod. I truly enjoy having it to listen to podcasts. I like to learn and I have gained much through listening about various topics. The second is my Cricut machine for my hobby of paper crafting. My Cricut has brought much enjoyment and I think it is because it is related to a hobby I receive so much pleasure from. Also, by having the Cricut machine, it has replaced many of the other tools I used to use for paper crafting.

  • Heather

    My vote is for experiences. When I started travelling alot, I found a lighter load made me enjoy my experieinces more. I love photography, so I happily collect my memories that way. I bought one of those photo frames, that allows you to put your pictures on there. Great way to watch my memories and it doesn’t take up much space. : )

  • While there are plenty of my possessions that I treasure, I agree with the basic premise that experiences bring more satisfaction than possessions. I try to encourage experience gifts over possessions at gift-giving situations as well, simply because I don’t want to have to deal with storing or caring for something I may not have wanted in the first place. Much easier to use the movie passes, the massage gift certificate, or the plane tickets home than the vase that doesn’t match or the earrings that are too heavy.

  • For my birthday this year (a month away!), I want to take a hot air balloon ride. I’ve always been lovingly obsessed with balloons, this year I’m finally hopping onto one. I know that I’ll remember this day my entire life. I’d rather float in a balloon than receive a new *thing* that will eventually be sent to Goodwill.

    Recently, Denver hosted Restaurant Week, where all of the menus are set at a fixed price of $52.80 (our elevation). Mr. Wonderful and I sampled a new place every day of the week. Excessive? Yes. Fun? Absolutely! I’d take those dinners, and the memories they provided, over an evening of shopping any day.

    Thinking back to my younger years, I remember the DAYS spent prowling the mall. I remember the MONEY I spent on clothing/shoes, items I can’t even recall. I wish, more than anything, I could go back and exchange that time and money for more camping, hiking, learning photography, dancing, and laughing. I’m making up for lost time these days!

    • miss minimalist

      Sunny, that sounds fabulous! Have a wonderful birthday, and please blog about your balloon ride so we can read all about it. :-)

  • roxetterachel

    Experiential, hands down! I’d rather spend my hard-earned money on a nice dinner out, a class to learn something new, or a vacation any day. I too remember all of the time I spent shopping. Instead of sitting by the beach reading a good book, I’d be in the outlet malls, satisfying that “fast-food” urge for new things. Now, the less stuff I have, the more my mind is able to find peace and lead me to experiences that I couldn’t have had with my old frame of mind.

    Pre-minimalism, I’d have told you shiny new objects, but those got me nowhere but in a financial mess and a world of worry. There’s always a new object to shop for when that is what you crave. Now, I have nothing to shop for, and it feels great.

  • I couldn’t agree more! I’d rather spend on eating my favorite foods or doing an activity I enjoy over new shoes any day!

  • Experience hands down!
    There is so much to experience in this world, and so much to see. We can learn so much and have the opportunity to become better people if only we understood each other better. We can also just soak in new culture and enjoy the yummy food. Or we can do both!

  • Heather

    @ Sunny..that sounds like fun!!! Happy Birthday!!! Enjoy your day. : )

  • Amanda

    As someone said, I have several possessions which I treasure (including my grandmother’s diamond rings!). But I agree that experiences are inherently more valuable than things. In general, possessions don’t teach you anything whereas experiences do (or should!). Plus, you don’t have to dust and store them. :)

  • Experiences are better. If you take photos, you DO have something to take home with you to remind you of your experience.

  • I so agree with you. My husband and I no longer exchange gifts and instead use the money to treat ourselves with an annual trip without the kids.

  • I’ll take stuff over experiences. The past means little to me and in particular I don’t find myself thinking about individual experiences. At least the stuff exists in the present and possibly also the future. However, I prefer money and power over stuff because they create opportunities in the future; and I think constantly about the future.

    • miss minimalist

      Hi Jacob! But in saving for early retirement, haven’t you sacrificed stuff (house, gadgets, etc) in favor of experiences (sailing, pursuing hobbies)?

      My impression was that you’d saved your money to have the freedom to DO things, rather than HAVE things — in other words, it’s hard to believe you’d choose a watch/car/big screen TV over a day out in your boat.

  • loren

    this is why they have souvenirs isn’t it? satisfies both?

  • […] Study:Experiences Bring More Happiness Than Stuff at Miss Minimalist  […]

  • Red

    Right on! Experiences over stuff any day! I think of it like this: Would I rather have the experience of Mr. Red proposing to me or the ring he gave me when he did? Hands down the proposal. Experiences shape who we are. Stuff does not but make us greedy or weigh us down.

  • A minimalistic approach is not something we value in the US, but its really needed. We constantly get more and more commercials telling us how to get more, but not to save and spend less. Thanks for an awesome share. Its really empowering to know others are out there as well. – Jane

  • Dave Young

    When your old and gray and sitting in your rocking chair in the corner of the room and not quite able to hear what’s going on around you, I’m sure its the experiences and people, not the things you bought that you’ll remember.

    ‘m not sure I agree with the various comments about photos as memories. For me photos are just more stuff and after viewing them a few times their ability to conjure up memories wears off. I think too often we spend time trying to take the perfect photo to capture the moment in stead of concentrating on experiencing it to the full and letting our memories work their magic later. It’s like going to a picture gallery or museum and spending all your time reading the labels instead of looking at the items on display.

  • […] Study: Experiences Bring More Happiness Than Stuff: If you asked me to name my favorite “purchases,” I’d be much more likely to rattle off vacations I’ve taken, operas and ballets I’ve seen, and nice dinners I’ve had — rather than any things that I’ve bought. Well, it seems I’m not the only one. A new study shows that experience-related purchases, rather than material ones, bring more happiness to the consumer…{read more} […]

  • I agree, experiences far exceed the stuff in my life. However, I will admit that a few purchased items have created great experiences for me. For example, the look on my husband’s face (a talented musician) when I gave him the money I’d saved so he could purchase a handmade, Taylor guitar. That experience was perfect for me.

  • My husband, who doesn’t *label* himself a minimalist but is totally a minisumer, nailed this years ago and explained it to me. He’s way more likely to buy tickets and wine for people rather than stuff. I’m all impressed with him retroactively.

  • Vicki

    I just shared this very observation with my husband recently – I love it when my opinion is validated by a third party that I admire!

  • I agree with the experiences over stuff thought! And I love your husbands’ tickets and wine gift over stuff! That always seems to be an issue when considering what to give (or get!) I think for my birthday this year, I’ll ask for experiences!! Thanks for the idea!!

  • Absolutely, experiences are way more exciting than ‘stuff’. I believe the iPod is an exception, because even though it’s technically a thing, it brings with it the amazing experience of music, and because it’s portable, it puts a soundtrack to our lives. Second only to smells, music is wonderful for triggering memories of a time or an experience.

  • Pauline

    I’ll vote for experience, but since i’m a photographer, experience with no photo is a waste for me!
    so i guess i’d take my camera as n° 1, then experience !

  • Dawn Gorman

    No kidding at all, I would rather have a lovely dinner and good wine and conversation with a group of friends than a diamond ring. Experiences win.

  • […] you can use this extra money or your extra time from stripping away draining relationships into more experiences. Boredom & comfort are the enemy. So is there any actual evidence for this or is this just […]

  • […] you can use this extra money or your extra time from stripping away draining relationships into more experiences. Boredom & comfort are the enemy. So is there any actual evidence for this or is this just […]

  • […] varios estudios, produce más felicidad que nos regalen experiencias que objetos. Según los expertos, esto es […]

  • Tina

    I like the things we’ve done and places we’ve gone. I really don’t need more possessions. We went to some interesting lectures and fabulous parties. Did some great Travelling. Still hoping to do more Travelling. I do Collect Native American jewelry when I find it at thrift shops or at a museum in Arizona or Oklahoma.

  • I was looking at a beautiful diamond necklace at a jewelry store the other day. My husband said he’d buy it for me. I said I have no place to wear a diamond necklace. Friends of ours who have charitable foundations or give substantial gifts to non profits have many places to go where an evening gown is appropriate. We know men who have bought tuxedos because they wear them so often.

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