The relative relativity of material and experiential purchases

Think you absolutely must have this season’s “It” bag to be happy? Or would you opt for a Caribbean vacation instead?

In a series of eight experiments, researchers from Cornell University studied how people feel after material versus experiential purchases. Overall, subjects reported more difficulty choosing material buys (like a new TV), and frequent buyer’s remorse.

Blame it on comparison. With material goods, there’s often another version (bigger, better!) you feel you could’ve gotten. Thinking of the two side-by-side lowers your satisfaction. In contrast, we remember experiences for their own merits, so they become more satisfying over time.

Here’s a hint: Thinking about the experiences that come with material goods (like jogging through the park in new running shoes) may increase satisfaction. The more you spend on enriching experiences, the richer and happier you’ll feel!

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