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Consumer goods can't buy you happiness - experiences can

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April 21, 2010

Cornell's study indicates that experiences tend to result in more happiness than material ...

Cornell's study indicates that experiences tend to result in more happiness than material goods (Photo: CT Snow)

They say money can't buy you happiness, but if your money is spent on 'experiential purchases' and not consumer goods, then perhaps it can. Research from Cornell University has found that spending money on material goods only brings short term happiness, while experiences provide greater satisfaction long term.

When buying consumer goods, shoppers deliberate about their purchases, doubt their choices and agonize over missed deals, leading to less satisfaction overall. Experiences, however, are more easily decided upon because they meet a set of expectations, and are therefore less painstakingly weighed against other options. They are also highly subjective, and thus less likely to be compared in a negative light to other choices.

How a person views a purchase can also affect their satisfaction - for example, a person may see a box set of music materially, as a collection of CD's, or experientially, as hours of musical enjoyment.

Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University professor of psychology, and Travis J. Carter, Cornell Ph.D., published the paper “The Relative Relativity of Material and Experiential Purchases” in the January 2010 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Carter is now conducting post-doctoral work at the University of Chicago. The National Science Foundation funded the research.

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4 Comments

I'm glad to see this article. I've been working for a long time to develop a venture intent on building new communities, where a great deal is done to minimize the quantity of crap people own, in order to create collectively great savings, which can then be utilized to acquire a range of experiential collective possessions, which no one except the hyper rich could afford on their own, but which can certainly be afforded by entire communities who are filled with those who freely choose to spend a very high percentage of their disposable wealth, creating utility for their communities and vacation locations, which are never owned by the utilizer, but simply utilized. Just renting a plane and pilot to go skydiving would probably cost you a couple hundred bucks all said and done, and actually buying the plane would cost hundreds of thousands [i guess small electrics just for parachuters could be a lot cheaper] [also man sized versions of the water and air pressure rockets they sell for kids] - but the truly incremental cost of that experience, within the right community [one centered on such things] might literally be as low as 10 bucks. Experiences via at least non individualistic material possessions, are the kind of benefits that can be brought to investors and members, in post modern renaissance level collective ventures. For the price of a single nascar car, a town of 10,000 people could probably buy the components necessary to install a 50 fuel cell go-kart fleet, and pave a racetrack via their own labor, all the way around their town. Do we have to make completely sense in our posts? Alx. PS: this is a great argument is what i'm trying to say, at least for the kind of people i'm eventually looking to manifest this business with. people spend a TON of their money on shit that they barely even use, which is low quality, and provides them with little utility or joy. FOCUSING all that crap spending, on things capable of providing insane experiences to new communities, is what i'm all about. i'm going to read more about this now.

Robert Alexander Graham
21st April, 2010 @ 10:34 pm PDT

loving that attitude. do it.

Will Manders
22nd April, 2010 @ 09:54 am PDT

Whoever said that money can't buy you happiness has never rolled around in a huge pile of it! That is a very happy experience!

and @Robert Alexander Graham

What you are talking about is timesharing, or fractional ownership. This is done already for things like airplanes and yachts and of course, vacation or second homes. Unfortunately, even fractional ownership is out of reach of the average person...and timeshares on the primary market are beyond the reach of many people as well (most timeshares will not sell to people without a family income of at least $36k)

Ed
22nd April, 2010 @ 03:10 pm PDT

@ Robert.

I probably don't get all of what you're saying, but if one intent is to create a community (geographical location) based upon people who want a life richer on experiences, of all kinds but not much the amusement park type, I think it's a very good plan, and quite realistic too.

Several communities based upon a specific mix of common preferences exist now. Some of these based on interests much less attractive to the general population than what you aim at. Varied "new age" locations have evolved into actual towns. I'm not enough interested in that to make it my life, but an experience town, now there's a much more interesting consept. I'd probably move in.

Stein
22nd April, 2010 @ 03:24 pm PDT
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