However, if you are going to buy material items, spend your money on those that provide you with experiences, according to a new University of Michigan and San Francisco State University study.
Previous research compared how happy people feel from obtaining material items—purchases made in order "to have"—and from life experiences—purchases made in order "to do." But this latest study examined consumers' reactions to "experiential" products—purchases that combine material items and life experiences—on their well-being.
In other words, purchases that people make "to have in order to do" would include video games, sports equipment or musical instruments.
Darwin Guevarra, a doctoral candidate in the U-M Department of Psychology and the study's lead author, said experiential products offer more well-being than material items because they satisfy a person's autonomy (behaviors to express one's identity), competence (mastering a skill or ability) and relatedness (having a sense of belonging with others).
Guevarra and colleague Ryan Howell, a researcher at San Francisco State University, asked the study's respondents to describe a recent purchase and the happiness it afforded. The purchases were placed in three groups: material items, experiential products and life experiences.
The findings indicate that experiential products provide the same level of well-being as life experiences and more well-being than material items. Life experiences (eating out, going to a concert or traveling) provided more well-being than material items (book, jewelry, clothes).
"When we first wanted to explore this hybrid category of experiential products, we believed that even if it provided more happiness than material items, it would consistently be less than life experiences," Guevarra said. "We were surprised with the finding that experiential products afforded similar levels of happiness as life experiences."
While material items and experiential products are both tangible goods, the researchers say, the latter satisfies greater psychological need of competence because it often requires consumers to utilize some sort of skill or ability.
The findings appear in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.