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Even Science Thinks that Experiences Trump Stuff

July 22, 2010
Bessie at Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Bessie at Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

If you haven’t been steered by the centuries of literature espousing the benefits of owning less stuff, let science convince you. A study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examining why spending disposable income on experiences makes you happier than on stuff.

According to the study, the reason why people are less satisfied with purchasing items is the classic feeling of buyer’s remorse.  When we buy a cell phone, for instance, we are much more likely to feel like we have made the wrong decision when we see the features of another cell phone.  In other words, we feel like we are not making the “right” purchase, and it stresses us out.

Contrast that with experiences.  When we take a vacation to a beach bungalow, we are less likely to compare our experience with a hypothetical experience in a different bungalow, even if we find out another bungalow might be better. In other words, when we experience something, we are much less likely to reconsider the choices that got us there.

The real conclusion, though, comes when the authors state that “satisfaction with material purchases tends to decrease over time, whereas satisfaction with experiential purchases tends to increase.” Simply stated, the longer we own something, the less happy you will be with it, but the more time that passes after an experience, the more satisfaction we get in simply remembering it.  Ask anyone over 70 and they will confirm that conclusion – all of their stories will be about the exciting things that happened to them, not the purchases that they have made.

Finally, it may not be poetic, but what the study ultimately says still rings true: “From many angles, the pursuit of experiences over possessions seems to be the firmer path to happiness.”

So, everyone from Jesus to Thoreau has said it and now science has confirmed it.  What are you doing to make sure that your life is full of experiences?

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