Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

Purchasing Experiences Can Produce Emotional Benefits

People who purchase experiences feel more awe and inspiration.

Typically, amazement is what motivates people to alter their understanding of the world and awe brings people's attention to the present moment and alters their subjective time experience. Awe is a sense of perceptual vastness (physical or conceptual). Because of this, the experience of awe might impact our perception of time, prosocial tendencies, consumption preferences, and well-being.

Melanie Rudd, Jennifer Aaker, and Kathleen Vohs found that experiencing the emotion of awe can have positive effects on a person’s overall well-being. In a series of three experiments, the authors of the study induced the feeling of awe in participants, who then answered a series of questions about their attitudes and intentions to engage in several behaviors associated with well-being.

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The article examined the relationship between awe, perception of time, and pro-social behaviors. The experiments presented found that feeling awe increases people’s likeliness for a range of pro-social behaviors including self-care, volunteering, and making experiential purchases (vs. materialistic ones). The primary factor mediating awe and these outcomes is a person’s perception of time as expansive rather than contracted. The article discusses three studies with the following findings:

1.    Time perception for ‘happy’ vs. ‘awe’: People primed with an awe-inducing video clip reported a less contracted sense of time than people primed with a happiness-inducing video clip. 
2.    People primed with an awe-inducing experience (reporting on a personal experience of awe) were willing to offer more of their time in a volunteer role and reported less impatience than people who were primed with a parallel happiness-inducing experience. Awe-induced people’s generosity was only time-based, it did not correlate to an increase in monetary generosity. 
3.    People primed with an awe-inducing experience were more likely to prefer experiential goods over material goods as compared to people with a neutral mind state.

Researchers at the academic website BeyondThePurchase.org conducted a follow-up study investigating the effects of experiential consumption on pro-social emotions such as awe. Results of the study indicated that people who consistently purchase experiences, as opposed to material items, have a significantly greater tendency to feel uplifting emotions such as awe and inspiration. The finding adds to the growing body of research examining the benefits of spending money on experiences.

BeyondThePurchase.Org helps people make the connection between their spending habits – how do you spend your money and who do you spend it on – and their happiness. To learn about what might be influencing how you think about and spend your money, Login or Register with Beyond The Purchase, then take a few of their spending habits quizzes:

How materialistic are you? Find out by taking the Materialistic Values Scale.

Are you a compulsive buyer? Take the Compulsive Buying Scale and learn about your spending habits.

In what ways do you hope your purchases will transform your life? The Transformation Expectations Questionnaire will tell you about what you expect from your next big purchase.

The article referenced above is called, “Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being,” appeared (2012) in Psychological Science.

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

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