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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 December 2, 2018

7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

When giving a presentation or speech, you have to engage your audience effectively in order to truly get your point across. Unlike a written editorial or newsletter, your speech is fleeting; once you’ve said everything you set out to say, you don’t get a second chance to have your voice heard in that specific arena.

You need to make sure your audience hangs on to every word you say, from your introduction to your wrap-up. You can do so by:

1. Connecting them with each other

Picture your typical rock concert. What’s the first thing the singer says to the crowd after jumping out on stage? “Hello (insert city name here)!” Just acknowledging that he’s coherent enough to know where he is is enough for the audience to go wild and get into the show.

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It makes each individual feel as if they’re a part of something bigger. The same goes for any public speaking event. When an audience hears, “You’re all here because you care deeply about wildlife preservation,” it gives them a sense that they’re not just there to listen, but they’re there to connect with the like-minded people all around them.

2. Connect with their emotions

Speakers always try to get their audience emotionally involved in whatever topic they’re discussing. There are a variety of ways in which to do this, such as using statistics, stories, pictures or videos that really show the importance of the topic at hand.

For example, showing pictures of the aftermath of an accident related to drunk driving will certainly send a specific message to an audience of teenagers and young adults. While doing so might be emotionally nerve-racking to the crowd, it may be necessary to get your point across and engage them fully.

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3. Keep going back to the beginning

Revisit your theme throughout your presentation. Although you should give your audience the credit they deserve and know that they can follow along, linking back to your initial thesis can act as a subconscious reminder of why what you’re currently telling them is important.

On the other hand, if you simply mention your theme or the point of your speech at the beginning and never mention it again, it gives your audience the impression that it’s not really that important.

4. Link to your audience’s motivation

After you’ve acknowledged your audience’s common interests in being present, discuss their motivation for being there. Be specific. Using the previous example, if your audience clearly cares about wildlife preservation, discuss what can be done to help save endangered species’ from extinction.

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Don’t just give them cold, hard facts; use the facts to make a point that they can use to better themselves or the world in some way.

5. Entertain them

While not all speeches or presentations are meant to be entertaining in a comedic way, audiences will become thoroughly engaged in anecdotes that relate to the overall theme of the speech. We discussed appealing to emotions, and that’s exactly what a speaker sets out to do when he tells a story from his past or that of a well-known historical figure.

Speakers usually tell more than one story in order to show that the first one they told isn’t simply an anomaly, and that whatever outcome they’re attempting to prove will consistently reoccur, given certain circumstances.

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6. Appeal to loyalty

Just like the musician mentioning the town he’s playing in will get the audience ready to rock, speakers need to appeal to their audience’s loyalty to their country, company, product or cause. Show them how important it is that they’re present and listening to your speech by making your words hit home to each individual.

In doing so, the members of your audience will feel as if you’re speaking directly to them while you’re addressing the entire crowd.

7. Tell them the benefits of the presentation

Early on in your presentation, you should tell your audience exactly what they’ll learn, and exactly how they’ll learn it. Don’t expect them to listen if they don’t have clear-cut information to listen for. On the other hand, if they know what to listen for, they’ll be more apt to stay engaged throughout your entire presentation so they don’t miss anything.

Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm4.staticflickr.com

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