Flickr Images

Consumerism is in the air this time of year. There may be no better evidence of our consumerist habits than the barrage of goods currently advertised on-line, in newspaper supplements, and, of course, in store windows. But there has been some recent pushback on this front. Last year, the outdoor retailer REI garnered national attention when it announced that its stores would be closed on Black Friday and encouraged customers to explore nature instead—a notion succinctly captured by the hashtag “opt outside.” Minnesota now provides an alternative to shopping for possessions by offering complimentary admission to parks; other states, such as California, Colorado, and Oregon, have followed suit with similar policies.

What’s behind these trends?  A lot of things, surely, including research showing that people tend to get more enduring satisfaction from the money they spend on experiences than from the material possessions they buy. We have found that people tend to be happier when they invest in experiences because experiential purchases connect people to one another, enhance their sense of self, and, relative to material consumption, tend to be appreciated for their intrinsic value rather than how they compare to what others have.

A common reaction however is an insistence that material goods are nevertheless a better use of one’s money because they last. While it’s typically true that possessions are indeed longer-lasting physically, experiences tend to last longer psychologically. Through a series of experiments, we’ve learned that the hedonic value people get from consuming experiences extends across a broad time course.

For instance, we’ve found that relative to goods, experiences typically provide people with more anticipatory delight. Looking forward to experiential purchases tends to be more pleasant, more exciting, and less tinged with impatience. Also, after experiences have ended, they continue to live on in people’s memories and in the stories they tell. Our studies have established, for example, that people talk to others more about the experiences they’ve bought than the material items they’ve purchased. Compared to possessions, experiences provide fodder for our conversations, thereby enhancing memory and facilitating social interaction.

– Amit Kumar, Jesse Walker and Thomas Gilovich

Read more: This Holiday Season, Spend on Doing Rather Than Having