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Living in the material world, one cannot help indulging in a few material things.  Especially when shopping around for that perfect gift, it’s always hard to resist making a few more purchases since the temptation to buy is so strong.

However, does shopping in this way bring only false pleasure, and should one curb the desire for material possessions then?

There is great news for those who love to go on shopping sprees: material things do bring happiness. In a new study from the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science, scientists have discovered that buying material things, such as clothes and sports equipment, delivers frequent episodes of happiness over a period of time. On the other hand, experiential buying, such as going for a vacation, delivers intense pleasure for one specific incident.

There are two types of happiness.

Image Source:  Alistair Berg.

How were researchers able to come to this conclusion?

Earlier studies observed what people had expected from their buying experience, recalled about the things they bought, and experienced, in regards to both material and experiential buying. In this study, Aaron Weidman and Elizabeth Dunn from the University of British Columbia did something similar; they gathered data about the effect of a purchase on a person in the initial few weeks following it. They studied the actual, momentary joy people felt about the purchase, five times a day for a couple of weeks. Material items included consumer items such as speakers, small appliances, or specialty clothing while experiential items included ski trips, tickets to a game, or spa treatments.

After weeks and, even after a month, of observation, the researchers discovered that there were two distinctive forms of happiness: one that resulted from material purchases and one from experiential purchases. Material things gave continuous joy in the weeks after the purchase while experiential purchases gave intense joy as well but only briefly. However, when people recalled shopping after about six weeks of Christmas, they were more pleased with their experiential acquisitions. People, in hindsight, seemed to appreciate their experiential purchases more.

Shopping decisions can be made based on what type of happiness is needed.

Image Source: Dan Dalton.

Mr. Weidman explained how people should make purchases. “The decision of whether to buy a material thing or a life experience may therefore boil down to what kind of happiness one desires,” he says. “Consider a holiday shopper deciding between tickets to a concert or a new couch in the living room. The concert will provide an intense thrill for one spectacular night, but then, it will end and will no longer provide momentary happiness, aside from being a happy memory. In contrast, the new couch will never provide a thrilling moment to match the concert but will keep the owner snug and comfortable each day throughout the winter months.”

Think carefully before making any purchase and ask, “What kind of happiness am I craving?” Then, gain from that shopping experience and reap the benefits.

Feature Image Source: Jonathan Billinger

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