Research shows that experiences provide more happiness than material goods

“Research shows,” according to Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton (2013: p. 7), “that experiences provide more happiness than material goods in part because experiences are more likely to make us feel connected to others.”

The reference is to Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending (2013).

I like this book; it’s a fun read.

A review of the book at goodreads.com by a reviewer named Adam sums up the main points of the book:

Excerpt from Adam’s review at goodreads:com:

The goal of the book is NOT to help you earn more, but to change the way you spend your money. Here are five principles the authors put forth to summarize the research of happiness and spending habits:

1. Buy Experiences

Rather then spending your money on material objects (even bigger houses!), you will be more satisfied with experiential purchases, which will be more likely to connect you with others, produce more positive memories, and not result in buyer’s remorse. If you’re looking to buy an experience, make sure it connects you with others, provides a memorable story that you’ll enjoy telling in the future, is linked to your sense of self or who you want to be, and provides a unique opportunity that can’t easily be compared with alternatives.

2. Treat Yourself

The more you are exposed to something, the less impact it will have. Don’t do your favorite things every day, don’t eat your favorite food or drink your favorite latte every day. You will enjoy it more if you make it an occasional treat. At the same time, you don’t need to take it to an extreme: Minimalism doesn’t actually result in bliss, what matters is your mindset, and ability to enjoy the small pleasures in your life.

3. Buy Time

Many people sacrifice much of their time in efforts to save a little money, e.g. through comparison shopping (which can also influence us to pay more for features that won’t actually make us happier). Other people spend a lot more time in stressful activities, e.g. working, in order to make more money. Watching less than 30 minutes of television per day can also be more satisfying, while spending more money on a bigger TV may only result in more time spent alone. Spending time playing with your child or walking your dog will provide more payoff. Consider how any given purchase will affect your time.

4. Pay Now, Consume Later

While iTunes and Amazon allow you to immediately consume our products, it can be counterproductive, because many of the pleasures of things we buy come prior to actually getting them, e.g. the planning phase of the trip. Waiting for things will make them more enjoyable when the wait makes you think about the details of how good it will be, when it makes you drool (literally, as it might in waiting for a piece of candy you really want), and when your consumption of the item won’t last very long.

5. Invest in Others

Finally, spending money on other people can provide more happiness than spending on yourself. The amount doesn’t matter—what’s important is that you don’t feel pressured or compelled to give: in fact, you are likely to feel worse after giving when you feel compelled to give. It is also beneficial to connect with those whom you give to. Be knowledgeable of the cause or purpose of your charity.

Try tracking your expenditures for one week, according to these five principles. See what falls outside of these categories, and what you can move around.

[End of excerpt from Adam’s review at goodreads.com of Happy Money (2013)] 

Comment

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a volunteer project – a high school reunion – with other alumni of a high school that I attended in Montreal in the 1960s.

When I came across the first concept – Buy Experiences – it occurred to me that a high school reunion is very much about the purchase of experiences. Of course, not every reunion is going to be free of buyer’s remorse, for each individual, but if the reunion is set up in a way that seeks to meet people’s expectations, there’s a good chance that it will be a good experience for a majority of attendees.

With regard to the second item – Treat Yourself – my sense is that major reunions are things that people might want to attend just once in a  decade or perhaps only once in a lifetime. Some people. I’ve noticed, have said that they’ve been to enough reunions, and don’t want to attend any more of them. On the other hand, some high school classes hold reunions quite regularly, perhaps meeting once a year for a gathering, and having some major reunion once every five years or so. It depends on the group, I guess.

The concept of Buying Time isn’t of much relevance to me, except to the extent that, as a volunteer working on a high school reunion , I find that ‘time affluence’ does not exist for me, to any great extent. The loss of time affluence is a drawback of putting in many hours of volunteer work, on any project. The payoff really comes from the satisfaction of a job well done. And you also realize that when the project is completed, you can take a break, have a rest, do nothing for a while.

Once the reunion that I’m working on has come and gone, I will have a great deal of time affluence, and can turn to other things. Among other things, I’ll do less volunteer work. The research indicates that a given number of hours per week of volunteer work increases your happiness but if you do a great deal more than that, it will not do you much good at all, in terms of your level of happiness. For a couple of years, once a decade or so, intensive volunteer work is something I can handle, because I learn things, and achieve things, that otherwise would not be possible. But I would not want to work like this, as a volunteer, year after year.

Pay Now, Consume Later: That’s very much what working on any event or reunion is about. A great deal of the pleasure in it, from the point of view of the organizing team, is the planning of a reunion. So many challenges emerge, and it’s always enjoyable to find the solution that works.

Invest in Others: So true: Spending money on other people can provide more happiness than spending on yourself. That’s what the research indicates, and it’s certainly been my anecdotal experience.

Conclusion

It’s a good book. I used to spend hours every week borrowing and reading books from the public library. Out of necessity, to free up time, I’ve stopped going to the library while our work on the reunion, that we’re working on, is proceeding. Instead of borrowing the book from the library, in this case I’ve bought the book. The payoff is the experience of reading it, in bits and pieces, now and then. A book is a material thing. It’s also an experiential purchase, assuming that you actually read it.

Update

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

 

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