They say money can’t buy you happiness. But apparently it can if you spend it right.
Buying things you can engage with, such as books, music and sporting goods, boosts consumer happiness in the same way that purchasing tickets to a concert or going on holiday can, according to new research from the US.
A study by San Francisco State University investigated the link between shopping and happiness by surveying consumers on their satisfaction after three types of purchases: material products, experiential products and life experiences.
The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, said buying goods that consumers can interact with, such as video games or instruments, led to similar levels of satisfaction as buying an actual experience, such as a massage or dinner out with friends. It found consumers were least satisfied with material products, such as jewellery or clothing.
“If you want to be happier, buy life experiences instead of material items; however, if you are going to buy material items, buy those that provide you with experiences,” the report said.
Associate professor of psychology and the report’s co-author, Ryan Howell, said experiential products gave consumers the chance to draw on their own skills and knowledge, while life experiences brought them closer to other people.
"They are essentially two different routes to the same well-being," Mr Howell said. "If you're not feeling very competent, the best way to alleviate that deprivation would be through the use of experiential products. On the other hand, if you're feeling lonely, you should buy life experiences and do things with others."
Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier said buying an experience had more value because it can be remembered and “you keep experiencing it over and over again”.
He said a fourth type of purchase facilitated even greater fulfillment for consumers. “Generally speaking, giving something, such as a donation to charity, rather than buying something for yourself tends to make you happier."
Mr Ferrier said consumers were not good at gauging the value of their purchases, or understanding which ones make them "happy", but that generally speaking a combination of different types of purchases was the key to satisfaction.
“We make a lot of mistakes estimating the amount of joy possessions actually give us," he said. “But if you’re using your [purchases] to fulfil passions, connect with others, give to other people and have experiences then you're well on your way to consuming in a way that will make you happy.”
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