You’ve probably heard that money can’t buy happiness, but here’s an interesting twist on that old adage. Suppose you do have money to spend. What type of purchase is most likely to bring you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of happiness?
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably had this experience. You bought that new “thing” you’ve been wanting, such as an updated computer or those designer shoes, only to discover that your satisfaction with this new purchase had worn off over time. In contrast, when you purchase a life-experience, whether it’s a vacation in Hawaii or a ticket to a play, your level of happiness not only starts out high, but actually goes up over time.
According to researchers, here’s what may be going on. The initial joy in acquiring your new object fades as you become accustomed to seeing it every day. But experiences provide you ongoing happiness for three reasons. First, your memory of the event continues long after that actual event took place, bringing you a greater happiness return on your dollar. Second, experiences provide happiness not only for you, but also for others. When you share an experience-purchase with family or friends, the event produces a sense of relatedness and closeness with your companions, thereby generating even greater happiness. You are fulfilling a need for social bonding while having these experiences. Third, unlike with your new computer purchase, during an experience purchase you feel more vital and alive. And this feeling of “aliveness” lives on as you continue to reflect on the experience. Unlike material purchases, experiences form powerful and important memories.
Here are some practical suggestions for the next time you want to buy some happiness:
- Develop an experience-purchase mindset. Even when you are purchasing a product, think of it in terms of the experiences it will provide. For example, if you are buying a new iPod, reflect on the many hours of enjoyable listening you have to look forward to, the new videos you can watch, and how much fun you’ll have sharing your music with others.
- When you purchase a material object, do not second-guess yourself. Experts suggest that if you think about the possibility of a better deal or question if you made the best choice, your satisfaction will diminish. Instead, not only appreciate the new item, but appreciate your experience of buying this new purchase.
- Think of gift-giving as an experience. Rather than focusing of the purchase itself, think of the connection between giver and receiver. In this way, the material possession will become a keepsake, increasing in value over time.
So, the next time you have money to spend, think about boosting not only the economy, but also your own happiness. Objects alone tend to provide diminishing returns. Foster your long-term satisfaction by focusing on the positive memories, interconnections, and vitality that come from experience purchases.