Attention Last Minute Holiday Shoppers: Buy Happiness


Slapping a bow on a present (or tearing one off) will slap a smile on your face because, according to a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, material items really do buy us happiness. 

It goes against practically every previous study and mom-delivered life lesson that material purchases do not actually bring forth happiness, but you can’t really argue with these University of British Columbia researchers’ findings.

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The team wanted to know how people felt in the moment—and, say, two weeks into having a new gift—since past research has primarily looked into what people anticipated about shopping, or remembered about items and experiences related to material and experiential purchases.

In the study, researchers assessed real-time, in-the-moment happiness people experienced from material and experiential purchases, up to five times per day for two weeks. “Material purchases consisted of items such as reindeer leggings, portable speakers, or coffee makers, and examples of experiential purchases were a weekend ski trip, tickets to a hockey game, or spa gift cards,” according to a press release.

Volunteers recorded their thoughts in the weeks following their purchases, as well as one month later. Turns out, the material purchases brought repeated doses of happiness over the following weeks, whereas experiential purchases gave men and women a more intense but fleeting dose of happiness. One caveat: When people looked back on their purchases six weeks after Christmas, they felt more satisfaction about experiential purchases than material ones. 

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“The decision of whether to buy a material thing or a life experience may therefore boil down to what kind of happiness one desires,” said lead researcher Aaron Weidman. “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. 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.”

Last minute man still in need of some gifts? We’ve got your back. Look no further for inspiration that’ll cover material and experiential gifts. Happy Holidays!

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