In previous studies, researchers have found that spending money on life experiences leads to greater happiness than buying possessions. In a new study, however, researchers have discovered that this "happiness boost" does not happen when people are only buying those experiences to impress others.
"Why you buy is just as important as what you buy," suggests Ryan Howell, one of the study's authors and an assistant psychology professor at San Francisco State University. "When people buy life experiences to impress others, it wipes out the well-being they receive from the purchase. That extrinsic motivation appears to undermine how the experiential purchase meets their key psychological needs."
The study involved surveying 241 participants about their motivations for making purchases. What they discovered was that the motivations for making these purchases could be used to predict whether the individuals needs would be met. People who spent money on life experiences that appealed to their interests reported feeling more fulfilled by the experience. Those who made such purchases out of a desire to impress others or to gain attention reported feeling less competent and connected to others.
So go ahead and take that exotic vacation or purchase those tickets to a Broadway show, just make sure that you're doing it for the right reasons."The biggest question you have to ask yourself is why you are buying something," Howell explained. "Motivation appears to amplify or eliminate the happiness effect of a purchase."
Want to learn more about your own spending habits and values? The study's authors have set up a website to collect data for their academic research and for members to discover more about their spending choices. You can visit the site at http://www.beyondthepurchase.org
Jia Wei Zhang, Ryan T. Howell, Peter A. Caprariello. Buying Life Experiences for the "Right" Reasons: A Validation of the Motivations for Experiential Buying Scale. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2012; DOI: 10.1007/s10902-012-9357-z
Image by Lewy Ryan