A new study conducted at Cornell University and reported in the January 2010 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that experiences bring greater happiness and satisfaction than buying and owning possessions. From “The Relative Relativity of Material and Experiential Purchases“:
No matter which wristwatch one buys, even if it is entirely satisfactory, it can still be compared to one in a store display — encouraging counterfactual thoughts about what it would be like with their positions reversed. After returning from vacation, in contrast, it is not so easy to compare a hypothetical Vail ski run with the waves actually ridden in Fiji.
The study revealed that people often feel buyer’s remorse, stress, and a sense that they may not have purchased the best or right product after shopping. In contrast, after a vacation, hike, bike ride, or game of softball in the park, there are rarely negative feelings or associations with these experiences.
… knowing about the features available on other cell phones is likely to influence one’s satisfaction with one’s own phone more than knowing about the bungalows available on other tropical beaches is likely to influence one’s satisfaction with one’s own tropical bungalow.
One of the points that interested me most in the study was the conclusion that:
… satisfaction with material purchases tends to decrease over time, whereas satisfaction with experiential purchases tends to increase.
Over one’s lifetime, it is his or her experiences that are more valuable than any product ever owned or purchased.
If you’re worried that getting rid of clutter will have a negative impact on your life, this study shows that it’s not likely to happen. Clearing the clutter will make room for you to have more experiences, which will ultimately make you happier.
From many angles, the pursuit of experiences over possessions seems to be the firmer path to happiness.
The full study is available for free from the APA.