Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

Life's an Experience: Consuming Memories Leads to Happiness

People who prefer to buy life experiences report positive mental health outcomes

Last week I wrote about how life experiences make people happier because they satisfied the need for relatedness. This week I want to discuss two new studies we have published where we explore the types of people who spend money on life experiences and the motivations people have for experiential consumption. 

Life's an Experience
First, because we were encouraged by the findings that life experiences better satisfy psychological needs, and in turn increase happiness, we decided to determine if people who habitually purchase life experiences report greater overall psychological need satisfaction and happiness. In order to identify these experiential consumers, we created a 4-item scale designed to measure the degree to a person prefers to purchase life experiences instead of material objects (i.e., the Experiential Buying Tendency Scale; Howell, Pchelin, & Iyer, 2012). People who prefer to buy life experiences report a number of positive mental health outcomes, including greater empathy, more engagement with nature, decreased anxiety, and less personal distress. Importantly, experiential consumers experience more psychological need satisfaction, and because of their consumer habits, their spending choices result in them being happier with their life.

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Next, we decided to measure the motivation underpinning experiential choices. In order to experience the hedonic benefits from one’s purchases, the motivations directing one’s consumption must be self-determined. However, sometimes, we buy things for external reasons, such as gaining recognition from others, and these other-oriented motives can limit, or even undermine, how much happiness we should feel from our purchases. Therefore, we tested if the motivations people have for buying life experiences affects the happiness they typically feel. To do this we developed the 20-item Motivations for Experiential Buying Scale (MEBS; Zhang, Howell, & Caprariello, 2012) which measures whether a person buys experiences for internal or external reasons. As expected, people who buy life experiences for intrinsic reasons reported greater psychological need satisfaction than those who buy life experiences for extrinsic reasons. Thus, the drive behind any purchase must be internally motivated, or else, people will not experience increased happiness from experiential consumption.

To better understand the benefits of specific consumer choices, we continue to investigate the relationships between consumer preferences, psychological needs, happiness, and values at our website, BeyondThePurchase.org (an academic website dedicated to research and public education). At BeyondThePurchase.Org we help 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 our spending habits quizzes:

Which spending decisions will make you happiest? Take our Spending Choices and Happiness survey and on your feedback page you will learn how to spend your money to be happier.

How happy are you these days? Take our Happiness and Life Satisfaction quiz and find out your happiness score.

Some people are gadget heads and some are foodies. Which do you spend your money on? The Experiential Buying Scale provides you with personalized feedback to learn what kind of things you tend to acquire.

With these insights, your can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness.

Howell, R. T., Pchelin, P, & Iyer, R. (2012). The preference for experiences over possessions: Measurement and construct validation of the experiential buying tendency scale. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 57 – 71.

Zhang, J.W., Howell, R.T., & Caprariello, P.A. (2012). Buying Life Experiences for the ‘‘Right’’ Reasons: A Validation of the Motivations for Experiential Buying Scale. DOI 10.1007/s10902-012-9357-z

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

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