Ever picked up the tab for a round of drinks because you felt like you should? Or splurged on lobsters for friends since the last time they had you over they served you a multi-course, Lynn Crawford-worthy gourmet meal?
While we’ve read plenty about how money doesn’t buy happiness, it’s a statement that comes with qualifiers. Buying consumer goods doesn’t necessarily make you happy…at least in the long run, since the high you feel from your purchase fades fast. It seems spending your hard-earned cash on experiences rather than things has a better chance of making you happier.
“When people spend their money on life experiences, they report that they are happier with that purchase when they reflect on it,” says Ryan Howell, PhD, director of the The Personality and Well-Being Lab and assistant professor at San Francisco State University’s department of psychology. “There’s a social component that comes naturally with experiences. We have data that shows that people who are engaged in life experiences, only about 10 percent of that time is spent alone. They don’t typically go to coffee shops or concerts or movies alone. Even if we do, we’re still around others and still interact. And that can help explain why life experiences are better than material items.” (Because as we’ve read before, social connections help improve our happiness overall.)
However, why you purchased that experience can affect your happiness just as much says Howell, who also founded the research organization Beyond the Purchase. When we buy to show off or keep up with the Joneses, well, that pretty much eliminates any of that happiness currency earned from purchasing a life experience over a consumer good. His study concluded that those who buy for motivated reasons felt less autonomous, competence and relatedness (think — connecting with others) compared to those who bought experiences for more general, self-directed reasons. “What we find is important is all the research we have indicates that motivational levels that you have before making a purchase is really important,” Howell notes.
Rings true to me, but what about you? Do you find treating friends gives you happiness?
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