There is growing support that money spent on experiential items increases an individual’s happiness. However, there has been minimal research on the causes and long-term consequences of the tendency to make experiential purchases.
New research shows that we feel more gratitude
for what we've done than for what we have -- and more importantly, that kind of gratitude results in more generous behavior toward others.
"Think about how you feel when you come home from buying something new," explains Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell Universty and co-author the new study published online in a recent issue of the journal Emotion.
Gratitude is a state of mind that arises when you affirm a good thing in your life that comes from outside yourself, or when you notice and relish little pleasures. Though some people and things are clear blessings, this state of mind doesn’t actually depend on your life circumstances. Whether it’s the sight of a lovely face or a tasty bite of food or good health, there is always something to be grateful for. Even bad experiences at least teach us something. And gratitude is not just a feeling outside your control that arrives willy-nilly. It’s more like a radio channel: you can choose at any time to tune in.
Gratitude is stronger when it is shared. To sustain your gratitude mindset, find a way to express it and it will show its benefits.
"You might say, 'this new couch is cool,' but you're less likely to say 'I'm so grateful for that set of shelves.' But when you come home from a vacation, you are likely to say, 'I feel so blessed I got to go.' People say positive things about the stuff they bought, but they don't usually express gratitude for it-or they don't express it as often as they do for their experiences."
In addition to experiments they conducted, the researchers found real-world evidence for this by looking at 1,200 online customer reviews, half for experiential purchases like restaurant meals and hotel stays and half for material purchases like furniture and clothing. Reviewers were more likely to spontaneously mention feeling grateful for experiential purchases than material ones.
Jesse Walker, a graduate student in the field of psychology and first author of the study says one other reason for this increased gratitude may be because experiences trigger fewer social comparisons than material possessions. Consequently, experiences are more likely to foster a greater appreciation of one's own circumstances.
The researchers also looked at how gratitude for experiences versus material purchases affected pro-social behavior. In a study involving an economic game, they found that thinking about a meaningful experiential purchase caused participants to behave more generously toward others than when they thought about a material purchase.
More than any other personality trait, gratitude is strongly linked to mental health and life satisfaction. Grateful people experience more joy, love, and enthusiasm, and they enjoy protection from destructive emotions like envy, greed, and bitterness. Gratitude also reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, and it helps people entangled with those and other problems to heal and find closure. It can give you a deep and steadfast trust that goodness exists, even in the face of uncertainty or suffering.
Amit Kumar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago and co-author of the paper, says this link between gratitude and altruistic behavior is intriguing, "because it suggests that the benefits of experiential consumption apply not only to the consumers of those purchases themselves, but to others in their orbit as well."
Gilovich, who is particularly interested in applying insights from modern social psychology to improving peoples' lives, says that this new research shows an approach that governments can take to both increase the well-being of their citizens and advance societal good. "If public policy encouraged people to consume experiences rather than spending money on things, it would increase their gratitude and happiness and make them more generous as well," he says. Such policies might include funding for public parks, museums and performance spaces.