Many psychological research studies have reported that life experiences provide us with greater lasting happiness than buying possessions does. Cornell Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich’s study demonstrated this finding again, but with an additional benefit from experiences. The benefit was: 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 counterintuitive – 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 forever.
Previous research by Professor Gilovich found that people are also less likely to compare the value of experiences, whereas 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. Plus, this knowledge 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 an opportunity for professional development experiences create more excitement, and happiness?
Test it out for yourself: pay attention to both the anticipation of, 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?
And 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.