Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

Which Experience Is Best For You?

Enjoyment of Experiences Is Influenced By Life Priorities and Values

Spending money on life experiences makes people happier than spending money on material items; however, not all life experiences are created equal. What types of experiences are most likely to make people happy? Researchers at BeyondThePurchase.org are beginning to uncover the answers.

Using data from 142 adults who completed a values survey and an experiential preference survey, we were able to determine the top five most appealing activities:

1. A day trip/weekend vacation 
2. A dining experience 
3. Museums/galleries 
4. A concert 
5. Hiking

We expected that vacations and dining experiences would be the two most appealing activities, as that converges with past research. However, we were intrigued by the high ranking of museum and galleries, which placed as the third most appealing activity of the 34 activities we assessed.

We then determined there are also significant differences in the activities and experiences preferred by people of divergent value systems.

People who placed a greater emphasis on pleasure and hedonism in their lives tended to enjoy fun, social activities (e.g., comedy, theme parks, and bars). Interestingly, hedonists preferred these types of amusement more than adrenaline pumping activities such as surfing, skydiving, and white-water rafting.

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At the other end of the spectrum, people who value personal development gravitated toward the arts (e.g., opera, museums, and art galleries) while avoiding the social, extraverted experiences preferred by hedonists.

Given that people are not always good at predicting what will make them happy, what we see in this data is that knowing a person’s values can help them make spending choices that most appeal to them.

We encourage everyone to Register with Beyond The Purchase, and be a part of this exciting new research. You can take the Experiential Preferences Scale and the List of Values Scale.

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

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