Happiness: No Purchase Necessary, Says Study

happy hiking girl photo
Photo via Primed Minister

It turns out, in this age of consumerism and gadgetry, that all this stuff we buy isn't really making us any happier--in fact, it's kind of bumming us out. According to the latest research, the key to finding happiness is something far more accessible than what product advertisements would like you to believe--simply enough, it's in having new experiences. Whether it be in traveling to new places, taking a hike with some friends, or even participating in some green activism, investing in experiences delivers more bang for your buck than consumer products--which is good news considering that so much of the stuff we buy ends up as waste.The study, which was conducted by psychologists at Cornell University, found that 'experiences' are more rewarding than 'things' because of the way people tend to evaluate their happiness by comparing themselves with others. For example, it is easier to feel crummy about some possession of yours if you learn that someone else has a superior version of it. "Experiences are inherently less comparative," says one researcher, which means they tend to bring happiness regardless of other's.

Thomas Gilovich, one of study authors, tells the BBC Brasil:

Imagine you buy a flat screen TV, and you're happy with it. But then you come to my house and I have a TV with a larger and better picture. That will disappoint and annoy you. But if you go on a vacation to the Caribbean and I also, you have your memories - your personal connection with the Caribbean - which no one else has and that made the holiday special.

According to the study, experiences are so effective at making us happy because we truly 'own' them in that they become integrated into our characters and help shape our personalities. Material goods, on the other hand, can really only be 'possessed' and rarely become a part of us in any meaningful way. Also, things we buy are subject to material degradation and devaluation, not to mention a gradual lessening in our appreciation for them. In contrast, experiences are transformed into memories, and even bad ones can be appreciated later on down the line.

"If you go on a hiking trip, and the weather is terrible, you might not view it as a pleasurable experience in the here and now. Instead, you may view it as a challenge, and over time remember the positive aspects of the experience more than the negative aspects," says Gilovich, via The Med Guru. "With material things you can't do this, because they are what they are."

So, in our quest to find happiness in a day and age where so many are offering it in the form of stuff they're selling, it turns out that being happy is a 'no purchase necessary' emotion. Not only does that mean we are happier producing less waste, but actively helping our planet could be one such experience that makes us even more so.

See also: What does the "Hedonic Treadmill" Concept Mean for Happiness and the Environment?
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