Research indicates that purchase of experiences yields more happiness than purchase of things

As a diversion from other activities, I like to read about research studies that focus on happiness.

What does the evidence suggest, with regard to what makes people happy?

One of the findings that I’ve come across frequently is that the purchase of experiences tends to yield greater happiness, for people, than does the purchase of things.

This is very much the way that I look at a high school reunion. It can cost a person money to attend such an event. For a person who is involved in organizing of the event, it can also involve expense out of that person’s pocket. Yet – it’s well worth it, if you go by the adage that purchase of experiences makes for happy people.

What do I get for $150?

From my perspective, this is a key response to the question of:

What do I get for $150?

Experiential features of hoarding

I recently have been reading about what the evidence indicates, with regard to the topic known as hoarding and related topics – which include the matter of how we as human beings seek to achieve happiness, whether the results and associated experiences are normative or pathological.

I have become interested in the evidence, that is available with regard to hoarding, since reading recent CBC news article about hoarding. Related to the evidence is the topic how we conceptualize hoarding, as contrasted to everyday collecting. That is, what frames of reference are available to us, when we look at hoarding?

By way of illustration, a June 7, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Hoarders learn to unload their stuff – and the stigma: Support groups are growing since hoarding was declared a mental disorder.”

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (2010)

The topic of hoarding has prompted me to read books available at the Toronto Public Library including: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (2010).

This is a remarkable book. I’m really pleased I came across it.

A blurb [which I’ve broken into shorter paragraphs] for the book at the Toronto Public Library notes:

“What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper that’s ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a woman like Irene, whose hoarding cost her her marriage? Or Ralph, whose imagined uses for castoff items like leaky old buckets almost lost him his house? Or Jerry and Alvin, wealthy twin bachelors who filled up matching luxury apartments with countless pieces of fine art, not even leaving themselves room to sleep?

“Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first to study hoarding when they began their work a decade ago; they expected to find a few sufferers but ended up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls from the families of others.

“Now they explore the compulsion through a series of compelling case studies in the vein of Oliver Sacks. With vivid portraits that show us the traits by which you can identify a hoarder—piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, houses that can be navigated only by following small paths called goat trails, vast piles of paper that the hoarders ‘churn’ but never discard, even collections of animals and garbage—Frost and Steketee explain the causes and outline the often ineffective treatments for the disorder.They also illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us.

“Whether we’re savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, none of us is free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live.

“For the six million sufferers, their relatives and friends, and all the rest of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.”

[End of text]

Experiential purchases create more happiness than material ones

The following excerpt [I’ve broken it into shorter paragraphs] is from pages 265-266 of the above-mentioned book by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee:

“Leaf Van Boven, a positive psychologist from the University of Colorado, says that there are three reasons why experiential pur­chases create more happiness than material ones.

“First, material purchases are not subject to recall and reliving in the same way as experiential ones, except perhaps among the avid collectors de­ scribed in chapter 2.

“Recalling a vacation with the family creates a better feeling than recalling the purchase of dining room furniture. And with each retelling of vacation stories, the feeling gets better.

“Second, the appeal of material purchases fades as comparisons are made with similar purchases by neighbors and friends, but the ef­fect of experiential purchases is not dimmed by social comparison.

Experiential purchases tend to be inherently social events

“Finally, material purchases are often solitary actions, whereas ex­periential purchases tend to be inherently social events that more often engender lasting positive moods .Van Boven and a colleague took this idea a step further by asking people who didn’t know each other to discuss a recent material or experiential purchase that made them happy.

“Following these conversations, participants rated people who discussed experiential purchases more favorably and as more likely to be someone with whom they would like to pursue a friendship . It seems that experiences carry more social potential than things, and ‘being’ versus ‘having’ brings people closer to happiness.

“These findings suggest that our expectations for the happiness potential of owning objects has come not from our own experience but from clever marketing strategies emphasizing the ‘having’ ori­entation.

“Scientifically developed ways of selling stuff largely em­phasize utility, security, and identity motives. Interestingly, these are also among the most frequent rationalizations for excessive acquir­ing among people with hoarding problems: ‘I can use it,’ ‘It will give me comfort,’ and ‘It’s part of me.’

“Perhaps hoarders are the casual­ties of marketing – acquisition addicts who can’t resist a sales pitch, like the compulsive gambler who can’t pass up a lottery ticket or the alcoholic who is drawn irresistibly to the neon sign of a tavern.

Materialism is not the same as hoarding

“But our research with hoarders indicates that although materi­alism is a part of the hoarding syndrome, there is a fundamental difference between people who are simply materialistic and those who suffer from hoarding.

“For materialistic people, possessions are outward signs of success and affluence. They are part of a per­sona designed for public display. Showing off one’s material wealth communicates success and status to one’s neighbors and is a major feature of materialism.

“In contrast, the typical hoarder will go to great lengths to hide his or her possessions from view. The hoard­er’s motivation for saving things is to create not a public identity but a private one. Objects become part of who the hoarder is, not the facade he or she displays to the world. As one of our clients put it, ‘Without these things, I am nothing.’ This quote is similar to Fromm’s comment on ‘having’: ‘If I am what I have and if what I have is lost, who then am I?’ ”

[End of excerpt]

A Dec. 9, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “The tyranny of Fitbit goals can create artificial happiness.”


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