Studies suggest that the key to happiness is spending money on experiences instead of possessions and material objects.
A series of articles in the Atlantic Magazine make the case and summarize some of the data. In the first article:
Even for the most materialistic consumers, it’s the experience of shopping (and the anticipation of buying) that makes us truly happy…
Stop buying so much stuff, renowned psychologist Daniel Gilbert told me in an interview a few years ago, and try to spend more money on experiences. “We think that experiences can be fun but leave us with nothing to show for them,” he said. “But that turns out to be a good thing.” Happiness, for most people not named Sartre, is other people; and experiences are usually shared — first when they happen and then again and again when we tell our friends.
On the other hand, objects wears out their welcome. If you really love a rug, you might buy it. The first few times you see, you might admire it, and feel happy. But over time, it will probably reveal itself to be just a rug… “Psychologists call this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage,” Gilbert wrote in Stumbling on Happiness.
The second article, by the same author, makes some similar points:
The first lesson in your paper is to buy more experiences and fewer material goods. It’s persuasively argued. But some objects give us experiences, like a car, or an indoor gym. How should we weigh those against pure experiences like a vacation?
There is a continuum from a massage, which is purely experiential, to a diamond you keep in a safe deposit box, which is purely material. Most things are in the middle.
Sometimes you have to make a choice: Do I get a new car or take a European vacation? It’s pretty easy to say which of these is more experiential and which is more material. The research suggests that all else being equal, you’ll be happier with the vacation.
Even Vanguard, with whom I have my retirement accounts, offers similar advice:
Question: In your book you say buyer’s remorse undercuts the ability of money to buy happiness. How so?
Prof. Dunn: Buying stuff often leads to buyer’s remorse because we are happy with things until we find out there are better things available. The problem with material things is that it is too easy to compare them with other material things…
Question: How, then, can you use your money to buy happiness?
Prof. Dunn: As Prof. Michael Norton, with whom I wrote “Happy Money,” and I point out in the book, one way is to use money to buy time, to outsource your most dreaded tasks so you can pursue your passions.
So, we suggest you bring the crew to Grand Cayman and join us for Anesthesia Camp at the Ritz Carlton, Jan 29 – Feb 1, 2014. You’ll have fun planning the trip; you’ll have fun on the beach and in the water; you’ll enjoy our lectures and meeting other clinicians and making new friends; and you’ll have a host of memories.