What if you knew that certain types of purchases would make you happier than others? More specifically, what if you had seen some of the studies indicating that spending money on experiences tends to make people happier than spending money on stuff? Would you arrange your use of money accordingly? Maybe you would, but apparently most people don't. Summarizing some new research on the topic, an article in Scientific American noted:
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.Ah, but what if you bought things that led to great experiences? Another recent study on money and happiness raised this very question, pointing out that things and experiences are not always mutually exclusive. Some things, the researchers explained, can be thought of as "experiential goods," which are capable of bringing about just as much happiness as pure experiences. An important key here is knowing what types of experiences make people happy. After all, going to the dentist to have a cavity filled and going on a vacation are both experiences, but visiting your dentist isn't likely to rate as high on the happiness scale as visiting your favorite resort. The research points to three types of experiences that are especially good at promoting happiness---those that "satisfy the psychological needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness." Some experiential goods might even satisfy all three.
A musical instrument, for example, makes possible a sort of human happiness hat trick: Finely tune your skills, get the happiness of mastery (competence); play your heart out, get the happiness of self-expression (autonomy); jam with friends, get the happiness of connecting with others (relatedness).I suspect there's more work to be done in solving the mystery of the money/happiness connection. After all, overspending on that musical instrument could just as easily land you in the marital penalty box. Still, it's helpful to know that spending money on certain types of experiences—and certain types of experiential goods—can help us live happier lives. What are some experiential goods you've purchased that have made you happy?