Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, said research has shown consumers gain greater happiness from buying life experiences rather than material possessions, but only if they choose experiences for the right reasons.
"Why you buy is just as important as what you buy," Howell said in a statement. "When people buy life experiences to impress others, it wipes out the well-being they receive from the purchase. That extrinsic motivation appears to undermine how the experiential purchase meets their key psychological needs."
Howell, Jia Wei Zhang, a student in his laboratory, and Peter Caprariello of the University of Rochester, surveyed 241 participants and found one's motivation for making a purchase predicts whether the needs will be met.
The study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, found people who choose to buy life experiences because it is in line with their desires, interests and values reported a greater sense of fulfillment and well-being. They felt more autonomous, competent and connected to others, and experienced less loneliness and a greater sense of vitality, Howell said.
"The biggest question you have to ask yourself is why you are buying something," Howell said. "Motivation appears to amplify or eliminate the happiness effect of a purchase."
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