| Psychology,


Beatrice Lessi

Have you ever spent money and thought the purchase would make you happy, but after an initial, short-lived thrill you felt exactly like before? If so, you are not alone.

Experience or…Stuff?

Everyone has been told if you spend your money on life experiences it will make you happier, and indeed a link between experiential purchase (such as a ticket for a concert, a trip to the theatre or a tennis class ) and happiness has been well demonstrated. Buying experiences makes most people happier than buying material things.
A recent research by the San Francisco State University, though, found that this isn’t always the case. About a third of the overall population are sort of stuck: they’re not really happy with a material purchase, and they are not happy with buying a life experience either. The title of the study – just published by the Journal of Research in Personality – is “Damned if they do, damned if they don’t”.

It Depends

So there are some people who are materialistic, but don’t feel happy after buying material things because they fear to be judged or criticized. They also don’t report a happiness boost after buying an experiential purchase because what they bought didn’t reflect their true personality.
According to Jia Wei Zhang, the lead author of the study, the results show it is not correct to say to everyone, “if you spend money on life experiences you will be happier than by being materialistic”, because you need to take into account the values of the buyer.
So, going back to the title: can shopping buy happiness? Yes, if it really reflects your personality. And no, there is no easy, short answer which suits everybody.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before buying something, one should know their deep, true self, and find the way to express it. Psychology Today, reporting the San Francisco study, suggests to ask yourself  these questions:

1.Before you make a purchase (or other decision), pause and ask yourself: Have decisions like this made me happy in the past?

2.Then ask yourself:  What is really important to me? 

3.And: What kind of person do I want to become? 

4. Finally: Is this harming anybody or the environment?


The co- author of the study said: “there are many reasons someone might buy something, but if the reason is to maximise happiness, the best thing for that person to do is purchase a life experience in line with their personality“. He invites people to learn more about it and contribute to future research by visiting his website, BeyondThePurchase.org.

Personally I would add an observation: if about one third of the population doesn’t report happiness after buying something for fear of being disapproved, maybe we could also try to be more tolerant and judge other people less.

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