Experiences or Purchases? Which One Should We Chase?

What makes us happy?

Everything that we do in life, we do it because we want to be happier and live life to the fullest. That’s why we slave away at our jobs, we push ourselves to do things that are uncomfortable or difficult (like going to the gym regularly), and we read blogs like this!

One of the biggest things we do in life is make money. Yes, we need money to acquire basic necessities for life. But it is true that money also allows us to acquire either experiences or products that can make us happy. Can anyone question the parent’s heart of wanting to bring joy to their child by taking them to DisneyWorld (an experience) and buying some Mickie Mouse headbands (a purchase) there?

The question is which one should we spend our time and money on? Experiences or purchases? Which one will truly make us happy?

The research is in and the answer is…


The Research on Happiness and Spending Money

Turns out that shiny new purchase won’t make you super happy (for long, anyways).

Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (May 2020) showed that “people derive more satisfaction from experiential purchases (e.g., travel, entertainment, outdoor activities, meals out) than material purchases (e.g., clothing, jewelry, furniture, gadgets), both in prospect and retrospect.”

They tested different types of experiences and tried to see how happy purchases or experiences made people in 1) anticipating the experience/purchase, 2) experiencing it, and 3) in remembering it.

In two large-scale experience-sampling studies, people were asked how happy they are while consuming the experience or purchase. The experience was consistently associated with significantly greater happiness, no matter what time they were asked.

So even when you anticipate an experience or remember an experience that you had, you are significantly more happy than you would be if you are anticipating making a purchase or remembering something you’ve bought.

What is the Research Telling Us?

Makes complete sense to me.

I don’t get any happy smiles on my face in remembering the expensive iPhone that I bought (actually, it might make me grimace thinking about another 2 years of being a financed slave to Apple). But I do get happy smiles on my face in remembering the amazing trip I took with my family, or the fun conversation I had with friends.

I might look forward to buying an expensive sports car and spend months researching, talking, and obsessing over it — But half of that is filled with the gnawing worry that I am making a foolish (and foolishly expensive) mistake.

Next time you have some surplus leftover in your budget and you’re wondering how to spend it well, don’t go for Amazon but go for an experience that you can have by yourself or with those who love.