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Material Purchases Bring More Frequent Happiness

Can Buying More Stuff Bring More Frequent Happiness?

As we gear up for the biggest gift-giving day of the year, new research shows that material possessions may bring more frequent happiness.

A recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers show that material purchases — buying stuff from sweaters to skateboards — provide more frequent happiness over time.

Experiential purchases, on the other hand — like a trip to the zoo or a vacation — provide more intense happiness on individual occasions. But the feelings of well-being quickly fade once the experience is over.

The majority of previous studies examining material and experiential purchases and happiness focused on what people anticipated about shopping or remembered about items and experiences.

The University of British Columbia’s Aaron Weidman and Elizabeth Dunn wanted to know how people felt in the moment, say the first weeks with a new sweater or tablet computer.

To answer this question, they assessed the real-time, momentary happiness people got from material and experiential purchases, up to five times a day for two weeks. Material purchases consisted of items such as reindeer leggings, portable speakers, or coffee makers, while examples of experiential purchases were a weekend ski trip, tickets to a hockey game, or spa gift cards.

By having people record their thoughts in the weeks following their purchases, as well as one month after their purchases, the researchers showed that material and experiential purchases bring happiness in two distinct ways.

Material purchases bring repeated doses of happiness over time in the weeks after they are bought, while experiential purchases offer a more intense, but fleeting, dose of happiness.

Additionally, when people looked back on their purchases six weeks after Christmas, they felt more satisfaction about experiential purchases.

“The decision of whether to buy a material thing or a life experience may therefore boil down to what kind of happiness one desires,” said Weidman.

“Consider a holiday shopper deciding between tickets to a concert or a new couch in the living room. The concert will provide an intense thrill for one spectacular night, but then it will end, and will no longer provide momentary happiness, aside from being a happy memory.”

“In contrast, the new couch will never provide a thrilling moment to match the concert, but will keep the owner snug and comfortable each day throughout the winter months.”

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology


Rethink shopping bag photo by shutterstock.

Can Buying More Stuff Bring More Frequent Happiness?

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Can Buying More Stuff Bring More Frequent Happiness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 23 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.