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Science Finds Something Surprising About The Effect Of Material Purchases On Happiness

Science Finds Something Surprising About The Effect Of Material Purchases On Happiness

Can money buy happiness?

It’s an age-old question, one that often doesn’t get a straight or satisfying answer. Some people contend that material purchases are bad and can’t bring us happiness, while others enjoy purchasing material goods and say it actually makes them feel good and more joyful—at least for a while.

These two opposing views have prompted psychologists to investigate the truth about money and its impact on our happiness. The results, at first glance, seem somewhat obvious: People with higher incomes and thus more buying power are, broadly speaking, happier than those who struggle to get by.

But, dig a little deeper into the findings, and they get a lot more interesting and surprising too.

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Material purchases can make you frequently happy

In a recent study from the University of British Columbia, researchers wanted to know how people felt right after purchasing something, like a new sweater or tablet computer. This study was interesting because there have been fewer studies to examine how people actually feel while consuming material purchases as opposed to consuming life experiences like a big vacation overseas.

Over the past decade or so there have been an abundance of mainstream studies that conclude people derive more happiness from buying life experiences than buying material objects. That explains why so many people today maintain that buying material goods can’t make you happy. And yet more people still deny themselves life experiences and prioritize buying material goods. What gives?

Aaron Weidman and Elizabeth Dunn, researchers from the University of British Columbia who led the aforementioned study, found that material purchases provide more frequent happiness over time, whereas experiential purchases provide more intense happiness on individual occasions.

Weidman and Dunn assessed the real-time, momentary happiness people got from material and experiential purchases, up to five times per day for two weeks. Material purchases consisted of items like skateboards, portable speakers and coffee makers, while experiential purchases were things like spa gift cards, a weekend ski trip and tickets to a hockey game.

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After carefully analyzing the data that people provided when they were asked to record their thoughts in the weeks following their purchases, as well as one month after their purchases, the researchers discovered that material and experiential purchases bring happiness in two distinct flavors:

  • Firstly, material purchases bring repeated doses of happiness over time in the weeks after they are bought, whereas experiential purchases offer a more intense but fleeting dose of happiness.
  • Secondly, when people looked back on their purchases 6 weeks after Christmas, they felt more satisfaction about experiential purchases.

The study authors concluded that the decision of whether to buy a material thing or a life experience may boil down to what kind of happiness one desires. “Consider a holiday shopper deciding between tickets to a concert or a new couch in the living room” said Mr. Weidman. “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,” Weidman continued, “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.”

But, there is a caveat against material purchases

Cornell University psychology professor Thomas Gilovich seems to agree with Mr. Weidman and Ms. Dunn’s research findings, and offers this explanation:

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“People often make a rational calculation: I have a limited amount of money, and I can either go there, or I can have this. If I go there, it’ll be great, but it’ll be done in no time. If I buy this thing, at least I’ll always have it.”

But, Gilovich goes further and reminds us that while this calculation is factually true, it is not psychologically true. “We adapt to our material goods,” he says. The new couch, new dress or fancy car provides a brief thrill, but we soon come to take it for granted.

Experiences, on the other hand, Gilovich says , tend to meet more of our underlying psychological needs. They are often shared with other people, giving us a greater sense of connection, and they form a bigger part of our sense of identity. If you’ve climbed in the Himalayas, Gilovich offers an example, that’s something you’ll always remember and talk about, long after all your favorite gadgets have gone to the landfill.

So, where does all this leave us—ordinary people who just want to be happy?

Should you purchase life experiences or material items? I suppose the more accurate answer is… it depends.

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It depends on your situation, and what type of happiness you are looking to have. Are you looking for more lasting happiness, more frequent happiness (as some sort of respite, maybe) or both? Ultimately, though, your money will be better spent if you take the time to appreciate the objects of your spending (the gadget, vacation, or smiles of the people you have helped).

In other words, wring as many rewarding and stretching experiences from your purchases as possible, and you may just be able to buy happiness. As the famous Lexus advertisement pronounced, “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness isn’t spending it right.”

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on October 6, 2020

15 Things Highly Confident People Don’t Do

15 Things Highly Confident People Don’t Do

Highly confident people believe in their ability to achieve. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else put their faith in you? To walk with swagger and improve your self-confidence, watch out for these fifteen things highly confident people don’t do.

And if you want to know the difference between an arrogant person and a confident person, watch this video first:

 

1. They don’t make excuses.

Highly confident people take ownership of their thoughts and actions. They don’t blame the traffic for being tardy at work; they were late. They don’t excuse their short-comings with excuses like “I don’t have the time” or “I’m just not good enough”; they make the time and they keep on improving until they are good enough.

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2. They don’t avoid doing the scary thing.

Highly confident people don’t let fear dominate their lives. They know that the things they are afraid of doing are often the very same things that they need to do in order to evolve into the person they are meant to be.

3. They don’t live in a bubble of comfort.

Highly confident people avoid the comfort zone, because they know this is a place where dreams die. They actively pursue a feeling of discomfort, because they know stretching themselves is mandatory for their success.

4. They don’t put things off until next week.

Highly confident people know that a good plan executed today is better than a great plan executed someday. They don’t wait for the “right time” or the “right circumstances”, because they know these reactions are based on a fear of change. They take action here, now, today – because that’s where progress happens.

5. They don’t obsess over the opinions of others.

Highly confident people don’t get caught up in negative feedback. While they do care about the well-being of others and aim to make a positive impact in the world, they don’t get caught up in negative opinions that they can’t do anything about. They know that their true friends will accept them as they are, and they don’t concern themselves with the rest.

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6. They don’t judge people.

Highly confident people have no tolerance for unnecessary, self-inflicted drama. They don’t feel the need to insult friends behind their backs, participate in gossip about fellow co-workers or lash out at folks with different opinions. They are so comfortable in who they are that they feel no need to look down on other people.

7. They don’t let lack of resources stop them.

Highly confident people can make use of whatever resources they have, no matter how big or small. They know that all things are possible with creativity and a refusal to quit. They don’t agonize over setbacks, but rather focus on finding a solution.

8. They don’t make comparisons.

Highly confident people know that they are not competing with any other person. They compete with no other individual except the person they were yesterday. They know that every person is living a story so unique that drawing comparisons would be an absurd and simplistic exercise in futility.

9. They don’t find joy in people-pleasing.

Highly confident people have no interest in pleasing every person they meet. They are aware that not all people get along, and that’s just how life works. They focus on the quality of their relationships, instead of the quantity of them.

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10. They don’t need constant reassurance.

Highly confident people aren’t in need of hand-holding. They know that life isn’t fair and things won’t always go their way. While they can’t control every event in their life, they focus on their power to react in a positive way that moves them forward.

11. They don’t avoid life’s inconvenient truths.

Highly confident people confront life’s issues at the root before the disease can spread any farther. They know that problems left unaddressed have a way of multiplying as the days, weeks and months go by. They would rather have an uncomfortable conversation with their partner today than sweep an inconvenient truth under the rug, putting trust at risk.

12. They don’t quit because of minor set-backs.

Highly confident people get back up every time they fall down. They know that failure is an unavoidable part of the growth process. They are like a detective, searching for clues that reveal why this approach didn’t work. After modifying their plan, they try again (but better this time).

13. They don’t require anyone’s permission to act.

Highly confident people take action without hesitation. Every day, they remind themselves, “If not me, who?”

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14. They don’t limit themselves to a small toolbox.

Highly confident people don’t limit themselves to Plan A. They make use of any and all weapons that are at their disposal, relentlessly testing the effectiveness of every approach, until they identify the strategies that offer the most results for the least cost in time and effort.

15. They don’t blindly accept what they read on the Internet as “truth” without thinking about it.

Highly confident people don’t accept articles on the Internet as truth just because some author “said so”. They look at every how-to article from the lens of their unique perspective. They maintain a healthy skepticism, making use of any material that is relevant to their lives, and forgetting about the rest. While articles like this are a fun and interesting thought-exercise, highly confident people know that they are the only person with the power to decide what “confidence” means.

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