You CAN Shop For Happiness...But The Purchases Aren't "Stuff"


Photo via Elsie esq. via Flickr CC

You can't buy happiness. Or can you? One new study shows that you actually can - but it doesn't come in the form of things. It comes in the form of buying experiences. It's not necessarily news - we already know that happier societies than the US exist, and they're societies that put far less emphasis on owning stuff. The latest study by Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University professor of psychology and Travis J. Carter, Cornell Ph.D. '10 points a shining light on how dematerialization can, and does, make us happier people. We just need to shift where we spend our money (if we need to spend it at all...).Physorg reports that the latest study confirms what we already know at heart - buying things doesn't make you happier. But buying experiences does. So if you're shopping for happiness, the key is to purchase a massage, a trip to the museum, a two-night stay at a bed and breakfast as a way to unplug for awhile.

Why? It comes down to the paradox of choice, as it turns out.

We found that participants were less satisfied with their material purchases because they were more likely to ruminate about unchosen options (Study 1); that participants tended to maximize when selecting material goods and satisfice when selecting experiences (Study 2); that participants examined unchosen material purchases more than unchosen experiential purchases (Study 3); and that, relative to experiences, participants' satisfaction with their material possessions was undermined more by comparisons to other available options (Studies 4 and 5A), to the same option at a different price (Studies 5B and 6), and to the purchases of other individuals (Study 5C). Our results suggest that experiential purchase decisions are easier to make and more conducive to well-being.

So, thanks to selective memory, buying experiences actually means getting greater satisfaction out of a purchase as time goes on out - it's simply harder to be upset that a newer version, or cheaper version, of what we just bought came out the week after we bought something. There is no "new version" of a massage or a trip to the theater - or if there is, you don't regret the experience you just had, you simply look forward to the next one.

It adds up to a perfect reason to quit buying stuff. Period. So if you're a shopaholic who can't seem to adjust to the Less-Is-More imperative of the green movement, just shift your spending habits. Likely, this will also lead you to investing more in your local community, since attending events and experiences is a fairly local thing. Of course, shifting towards experiences rather than stuff can also mean leaving money out of the equation altogether - it doesn't take money to go walk in the park on a gorgeous day or attend a parade.

There are two fabulous TED talks that correspond with this. One is Dan Gilbert asks, Why are we happy? which delves into happiness when it comes to choosing the "best" of a selection of items. The other is Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice which talks about how much less happy we are the more choices we have, and how there is a limit to how much selection we actually want.

More on Consumerism
If Consumerism is Destroying the Planet How Can I Opt Out?
Cult of Consumerism at Root of Planet's Environmental Degradation & Destruction
ETech 2009: Ending Obsolescence with a Post-Consumerist Economy (Video)

Tags: Conspicuous Consumption | Consumerism | Shopping