We all seem to be chasing that elusive happiness. Some seek it through an abundance of self-help books, others through mindfulness meditation apps, others through countless motivational posts on social media. Cornell University Psychology Professor Dr Thomas Gilovich thinks we are may be searching in all of the wrong places.
As a society, we are taught to place a high value on material items. We’re constantly being told we need the “latest and greatest” of everything. That “this” car, “this” home, and “this” gadget will bring us happiness… And they do, momentarily. But then we need more.
Dr Thomas Gilovich and Doctoral Student Amit Kumar conducted a recent study that looked into the difference between material and experiential purchases, and how they impact our happiness.
They focused on the act of purchasing – comparing the happiness of people buying, or waiting in line to buy, material objects with the happiness of people lining up for music festivals, concerts, sports games, etc. The results were telling.
“You sometimes hear stories about people rioting, smashing windows, pepper-spraying one another, or otherwise treating others badly when they have to wait.
“Our work shows that this kind of behaviour is much more likely in instances where people are waiting to acquire a possession than when they’re waiting for tickets to a performance or to taste the offerings at their city’s newest food truck,” Kumar says.
The researchers discovered that even so much as thinking about impending experiential purchases boosts people’s happiness to much higher levels than those felt when they use their new iPhone for the first time (for example).
It makes sense. Think about the pure excitement you felt when counting down the days until an overseas holiday, or the minutes until your favourite band walked on stage. When was the last time you felt the same way about a material object?
The study also found that experiential purchases are proven to have long-lasting positive impacts on our state of minds, through our memories of them. Remembering or talking about our happy experiences allows us to relive them over and over again – so the amazing sunset, the thrill of the bungee jump, and the joy in our kids’ faces never completely goes away.
Professor Gilovich says the results of their study has illustrated the dire need for society to “provide more infrastructure that affords experiences – such as parks, trails and beaches”.
In thinking about our future, plan to have the financial security to live a life of amazing experiences. For the more experiences we have, the more we have to talk about, the happier we will be.