February 7, 2013

People Value Experiences More Than Objects, Study Says

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Are people more likely to be happy talking about the designer jeans they got at Christmas last year or about an epic spring break trip skydiving in Fiji?

According to a new study by Prof. Thomas Gilovich, psychology, and Amit Kumar grad, talking about experiential purchases makes people happier than talking about material purchases.

“Experiences give you the opportunity to tell a story … and we enjoy stories,” Kumar said.

Gilovich and Kumar based their findings on seven different studies they conducted, which all looked at various aspects of talking about experiential and material purchases. They are currently working on publishing a paper with their findings.

In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to discuss either a material or experiential purchase they had made. The participants were then asked to specify their most significant purchase in the last five years in the category they were assigned and to answer questions about the satisfaction they derived from those things.

Participants reported that talking was much more important to their experiential purchases than to their material purchases. Results also indicated that participants got more purchase satisfaction from experiences, according to the study.

The research, which focuses what will most increase consumers’ happiness, may help consumers shift their patterns of consumption so purchases can be more satisfying, according to Kumar.

“Maybe you save 20 bucks on a shirt to go out to a movie with your friends instead,” he said. “You get excited about going and can still talk about it later. Experiential purchases have benefits before and after.”

According to Gilovich, the current study is an extension of a paper he previously wrote with another graduate student, Leaf Van Boven ’00. Gilovich said that the first paper studied experiences and material things and found that experiences made people happier.

“I had to ask myself why this was,” Gilovich said. “I had an ideological consideration that people talk about experiences more and feel better because of it.”

Although designer jeans may physically last longer than a spring break trip to Fiji, Gilovich said people’s happiness diminishes as they become accustomed to these things in their lives.

“One of the biggest findings in well being and happiness is how readily we adapt to changes in life, both good and bad,” Gilovich said. “This [ready adaption] is an enemy of happiness, because material things don’t endure in our minds.”

Gilovich said that the evidence suggests that society should spend less money on material goods and more money on experiential purchases in order to be happier.

“There’s nothing magical about experiences themselves that produces these effects,” Gilovich said. “It’s the social connections associated with experiential purchases that endure through reliving them.”

According to Kumar, research in happiness and well being, similar to the new study, has been increasing in popularity in recent years.

“How can we live our lives in a way that will make us happier?” he said. “People are discovering there are ways of actually measuring these things.”

Original Author: Erika Hooker