In several articles, such as

the claim is made that people who use their money (and, presumably, their time), to buy experiences, rather than physical goods, are happier.

We are repeatedly told that we should buy trips instead of cars and tours instead of smart phones.

However, the evidence cited seems rather flimsy to me. From the first article:

How adaptation affects happiness, for instance, was measured in a study that asked people to self-report their happiness with major material and experiential purchases.

So, my question is: Is it true that people are happier overall when they spend money on experiences rather than physical goods, and is there good evidence to support this claim?

  • 2
    There have been a large number of deleted comments rejecting that happiness can be measured or that purchases can be categorised. These are answers that need to be provided by the references given by the answerer, not the OP.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 4:37
  • You'd have to start by defining happiness. I would suggest it is not a goal, but a state of being. The act of purchasing anything affects happiness the same as the act of not purchasing.. or of combing your hair, or humming. I buy many things, activities or otherwise in a total state of unhappiness. How would you create a control group for any experiment you might devise?
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


Plenty of well-conceived research has been performed on objective happiness, which has given rise to interesting studies related to your question. These articles support the popular claim that more happiness can be derived from experiential purchases than material purchases:

"To Do or to Have? That Is the Question" (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003):

In two surveys, respondents from various demographic groups indicated that experiential purchases—those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience— made them happier than material purchases. In a follow-up laboratory experiment, participants experienced more positive feelings after pondering an experiential purchase than after pondering a material purchase. In another experiment, participants were more likely to anticipate that experiences would make them happier than material possessions after adopting a temporally distant, versus a temporally proximate, perspective.

"Experientialism, Materialism, and the Pursuit of Happiness" (Review of General Psychology, Van Boven, 2005):

Respondents to various surveys have indicated that purchases made with the intention of acquiring life experiences make them happier than purchases made with the intention of acquiring material possessions. Thinking about experiential purchases has also been shown to produce more positive feelings than thinking about material purchases. Other studies suggest that experiential purchases make people happier because they are more open to positive reinterpretations, are more resistant to disadvantageous comparisons, and foster successful social relationships more than material purchases.

"Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences" (Journal of Consumer Research, Bhattacharjee & Mogilner, 2014):

Prior research indicates that experiences bring greater happiness than material possessions, but which experiences result in the greatest happiness? (...) Younger people, who view their future as extensive, gain more happiness from extraordinary experiences; however, ordinary experiences become increasingly associated with happiness as people get older, such that they produce as much happiness as extraordinary experiences when individuals have limited time remaining. Self-definition drives these effects: although extraordinary experiences are self-defining throughout one's lifespan, as people get older they increasingly define themselves by the ordinary experiences that comprise their daily lives.

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