Many psychological research studies have reported that life experiences provide us with greater lasting happiness than buying possessions.

A recent study by Cornell Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich demonstrated this finding again, with an additional benefit from experiences. The benefit was that the anticipation we engage in before an experience creates even more excitement, and happiness, than waiting to buy something. This means there are benefits before, during and after the actual experience. Professor Gilovich has commented that this research is counter-intuitive – we tend to think that if we pay for an experience, like a holiday, it’s over and gone, but if we buy something tangible, like a new computer, we will have it for ever.

Previous research by Professor Gilovich has found that people are also less likely to compare the value of experiences, when they do tend to compare the value of things. (Comparing is linked with less satisfaction and happiness).

There are clear implications from this research for how and what we spend our individual and family time and money on. I also wonder if this information is useful for organisations—rather than leaders celebrating team successes by providing gifts or acknowledging performance with a bonus, would some additional time off or opportunity for professional development experiences create more excitement, and happiness?

Test it out:

For yourself: pay attention to both the anticipation—and experience—of doing something vs. buying something. Is there a difference for you? Do experiences give you a greater sense of excitement and happiness?
With your team(s): discuss this research together and try out some experiments with sharing experiences together as a team vs. investing in things. Of course, some experiences like going out for coffee together may tick both boxes and therefore may be trickier to tease out.


Kumar, A., Killingsworth, M., & Gilovich, T. (2014). Waiting for merlot: Anticipatory consumption of experiential and material purchases. Psychological Science doi:10.1177/0956797614546556.