It’s Not The “Stuff” That Makes Us Happy

When it comes to dreams of winning the lottery, we’ve all had ideas about how we’d spend the money were we to win.

“I’d buy a private jet,” or “I’d get that house at the beach, complete with a cleaning staff, a closet full of designer duds, and garages filled with the most expensive cars available.”

Recent studies by a generation of behavioral scientists show that material goods often fail to deliver lasting happiness.

A study of women in the United States found that homeowners were no happier than renters, on average. And dozens of studies show that people get more happiness from buying experiences than from buying material things.

Experiential purchases — such as trips, concerts and special meals — are more deeply connected to our sense of self, making us who we are.

People aren’t as happy commuting via car versus public transit. People are happier giving to others than spending on themselves. People aren’t as happy watching their new huge flat screen TVs as they are interacting with people in their lives.

Authors of the book, Happy Money: The Science of Happier SpendingElizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton say essentially the main difference between material things versus experiential things is how the time is spent enjoying them. Material things are most often enjoyed solo versus experiences, which are spent with people. We rarely travel, eat at a great restaurant, or go to a movie alone.

Norton and Dunn say the problem with easy access to so much “stuff” in our society is that people have lost real appreciation for things. The planning of a trip offers more happiness than going out and buying a new car. Saving up for a big trip or purchase can be more fulfilling long term.