The relative relativity of material and experiential purchases

The Researchers: T. J. Carter and T. Gilovich, from Cornell University

Published In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 98(1), pp.146-159, 2010


Buy experiences, buy happiness.


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!

Beauty connection

Spending your money on experiences can make you happier—which is a major beauty boost! You’ll sleep better (no more puffy eyes), and you’ll be more likely to flash a genuine, gorgeous smile. Not to mention, splurging on a relaxing vacation can help you de-stress—a huge boon for your skin, hair and waistline. Perhaps the most beautiful buys are experiences you enjoy with people who make you feel great. So long, Material Girl!

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