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People Think Experiences Bring Happiness, Still Opt for Things

Survey subjects rated life experiences as making them happier and as a better use of money than buying objects. But they actually spent their cash on material goods, whose value is more easily quantifiable. Erika Beras reports

You might assume that a new purse, painting or pair of shoes will bring happiness. Although you’d probably get a bigger kick out of attending a play or spending a week in Paris. But people still mostly opt for items over experiences—because the value of items is more easily quantifiable. That’s according to a study in The Journal of Positive Psychology. [Paulina Pchelin and Ryan T. Howell, The hidden cost of value-seeking: People do not accurately forecast the economic benefits of experiential purchases

Researchers surveyed people before and after they made purchases. Beforehand, they rated life experiences as making them happier and as a better use of money than buying objects. 

But subjects still tended to choose to buy objects over experiences. Then, despite picking items, most said they still believed the experiences would have been a better choice. 

The researchers ascribe this conflict to the tangible and quantifiable nature of a thing. You can point to a car and say how much its worth. But taking that car on a cross-country trip is an experience, and experiences can’t easily be assigned a value.  

Unless of course, you’re still paying off that week in Paris.

—Erika Beras 

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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