Want to be happy? Buy experiences, not posessions

19 February 2009

If you can buy all the gadgets, toys, and luxury cars in the world, would that make you happy? Not according to a study presented last week by San Fransisco State University.

The study based on 35 years of research concluded that material objects are 'worse value for money' due to poor representation of value relative to life experiences.  According to Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at SF State, this means material possessions led to less happiness:

"The study demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality -- a feeling of being alive. These findings support an extension of basic need theory, where purchases that increase psychological need satisfaction will produce the greatest well-being."

The results of the study also indicate that neither consumer income nor money spent had any impact on happiness. If you want to test this theory, here's one way to do it:

First, ask yourself: if I can return an object I bought and get it for the exact same money back, would I do it?

Next, ask: if I can return a life experience or skill that cost me money for the same amount, would I do it?

As someone who was previously addicted to buying lots of stuff, I personally agree with the conclusions of this research. Bring on the drugs and the strippers.

[San Fransisco State University]


  • Mr S.
    I disagree. When I return in object in your example, I have already taken it home and enjoyed it at least a little bit. If you ask 'do I regret purchasing it and wish I had the money instead of the enjoyment I got' the answer is less clear-cut.
  • Chris H.
    "First, ask yourself: if I can return an object I bought and get it for the exact same money back, would I do it?" get it for the exact same money back? exsqueeze me? Its a nonsense question anyway, if I could return my 5 year old TV for the £300 I paid for it, would I? HELL YES! its 5 years old and out-dated tech, I'd be a fool not to, but that doesn't mean I regret the initial purchase.
  • JW
    Agree absolutely (although those questions are a little weird). Let's face it, when we die are we going to remember the things we've seen and done or the things we've bought? The size of your TV will not (hopefully) be included in your obituary as a defining factor of a life. In my opinion that was 35 years (!) of research on something that was blindingly obvious in the first place. That's almost a lifetime's work. Perhaps those San Francisco scientists will regret not travelling or going to the theatre as much as they should have now that they've discovered the secret of happiness.
  • Spong D.
    When I was 33 I went travelling for a few years and spent ALOT of money. Would I want that money back? NO WAY money well spent!!!
  • Joff
    Money doesn't buy happiness, it buys opportunity.
  • Faysh
    Money doesn't buy happiness, it buys a better class of misery.
  • Darren W.
    people who say money doesn't buy happiness obviously dont know where to shop!
  • Lionel K.

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