Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

The Barriers to Experiential Consumption

Why do people buy material items instead of life experiences?

Why Don't People Buy Life Experiences?

Last week I introduced three financial and marketing experts to provide some comments on the barriers to financial happiness — why don’t people save for a rainy day, invest when they are young, resist retail therapy, and yes, buy life experiences instead of material items?

The second question we discuss concerns spending money on life experiences vs. material items. Before you hear their answers you may want to find out if you prefer to buy life experiences or material items by taking a short survey. To learn about your experiential habits, first Login or Register with BeyondThePurchase.Org and take our experiential buying survey.

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Question #2: Most people don't seem surprised that spending money on life experiences makes them happier, and yet, a lot of people try to buy happiness with material items — why?

Peter Bielagus: I think buying can be a knee-jerk response a lot of the time. Have you ever seen an infomercial ad that “expires” in ten minutes (“this deal won’t last!)? And then, you see that same ad four times during the week — so the expiration means nothing. I think it easy to impulsively buy material items; it is a bit more difficult to impulsively buy life experiences.

Gary Foreman: It might be because we can easily see the benefits of buying an item. Ads and salespeople tell us the benefits of material items, while the benefits of a life experience are harder to anticipate and evaluate (“what am I going to get out of this experience?"). Maybe, we're able to determine the value of material items. I bet that if we compared the opportunity costs of material items and life experiences we would determine that the opportunity cost of material items is high while the opportunity cost of life experiences low.

Sarah Hardwick: It's "Retail Therapy!" If you are unhappy, going on a shopping spree gives you a rush that makes you feel better almost immediately. Once that "buy-high" wears off, you find yourself back in the same situation. So you are likely to purchase material items to regain the happy feelings again.

So, Peter proposes that material items are much simpler to buy, Gary suggests that it is much easier to determine the value and benefits of material items, and Sarah think that we purchase material items when we are in bad moods.

What do you think?

Peter Bielagus is a speaker and financial educator. Gary Foreman is the editor of the Dollar Stretcher. Sarah Hardwick is the Founder & CEO Zenzi Communications

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University.

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