Brain and Body

Material Things Can Provide a More Frequent Happiness, According to Science

January 6, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Woman smiling and carrying colorful shopping bags
Photo credit: Roderick Eime/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Maybe Madonna was onto something.

We’ve all heard it before: “Money can’t buy happiness.” But for all you shopaholics out there, science has some good news — a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that material purchases provide individuals with a more frequent happiness than experiential purchases.

Plenty of previous research has indicated that spending money on experiences rather than material items makes people happier. However, researchers at The University of British Columbia wanted to explore the different kinds of happiness that people experience after spending money and how these purchases impact the levels and persistence of happiness.

To measure this, researchers Aaron Weidman and Elizabeth Dunn assessed people’s real-time, momentary happiness after purchasing either material or experiential purchases up to five times per day for two weeks. Some of the material purchases consisted of items like reindeer leggings, coffee makers, and portable speakers, and examples of experiential purchases were tickets to a hockey game, spa gift cards, or a weekend ski trip.

SEE ALSO: People Who Quit Facebook Are Happier, Study Finds

The study volunteers recorded their thoughts and feelings in the weeks following their purchases, as well as the one month mark after buying the purchases.

The findings revealed that material and experiential purchases bring happiness in “two distinct flavors” —  material purchases provide a more frequent happiness over time, while experiential purchases provide a more intense but fleeting dose of happiness.

"The decision of whether to buy a material thing or a life experience may therefore boil down to what kind of happiness one desires," Aaron Weidman said in a press release, "Consider a holiday shopper deciding between tickets to a concert or a new couch in the living room. The concert will provide an intense thrill for one spectacular night, but then it will end, and will no longer provide momentary happiness, aside from being a happy memory. In contrast, the new couch will never provide a thrilling moment to match the concert, but will keep the owner snug and comfortable each day throughout the winter months."

So while money can buy happiness, it’s best to keep in mind what kind of happiness you’re looking for, and maybe shopaholics don’t deserve such a bad rep for spending money on material things all the time — they could just be more of the frequent-happiness type than the intense-but-fleeting happiness folks.

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