Can ‘experiential’ stuff let you buy happiness?

"We were surprised with the finding that experiential products afforded similar levels of happiness as life experiences," says Darwin Guevarra. (Credit: Paul Hudson/Flickr)

Conventional wisdom says that buying experiences brings more happiness than buying material items. But, if you’re going to buy an object, pick ones that provide you with experiences, say researchers.

Previous research compared how happy people feel from obtaining material items—purchases made in order “to have”—and from life experiences—purchases made in order “to do.” But this latest study examines people’s reactions to “experiential” products—purchases that combine material items and life experiences—on their well-being.


In other words, purchases that people make “to have in order to do” would include video games, sports equipment, or musical instruments.

Darwin Guevarra, a doctoral candidate in the University of Michigan psychology department and the study’s lead author, says experiential products offer more well-being than material items because they satisfy a person’s autonomy (behaviors to express one’s identity), competence (mastering a skill or ability), and relatedness (having a sense of belonging with others).

Guevarra and colleague Ryan Howell, a researcher at San Francisco State University, asked the study’s respondents to describe a recent purchase and the happiness it afforded. The purchases were placed in three groups: material items, experiential products, and life experiences.

The findings indicate that experiential products provide the same level of well-being as life experiences and more well-being than material items. Life experiences (eating out, going to a concert, or traveling) provided more well-being than material items (book, jewelry, clothes).

“When we first wanted to explore this hybrid category of experiential products, we believed that even if it provided more happiness than material items, it would consistently be less than life experiences,” Guevarra says.

“We were surprised with the finding that experiential products afforded similar levels of happiness as life experiences.”

While material items and experiential products are both tangible goods, the researchers say, the latter satisfies greater psychological need of competence because it often requires consumers to utilize some sort of skill or ability.

The findings appear in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Source: University of Michigan