With holiday shopping season in full swing, everyone's looking for the perfect gift. For those who like to shop, there's good news: Material things can bring happiness. In a recent study from the journalSocial Psychological and Personality Science, researchers have shown that material purchases, from sweaters to skateboards, provide more frequent happiness over time, whereas experiential purchases, like a trip to the zoo, provide more intense happiness on individual occasions.
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 per day for two weeks. Material purchases consisted of items such as reindeer leggings, portable speakers, or coffee makers, and 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 flavors. 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. Additionally, when people looked back on their purchases 6 weeks after Christmas, they felt more satisfaction about experiential purchases.