Each year, as we get closer to Christmas, retailers begin their descent into consumer overload. We are constantly urged to seek comfort in the credit card and spend to fill a gaping hole in our hearts, which tells us we MUST have new shoes, or the latest product. Whilst this quick fix seems to resolve any other issue we might have, if this was truly happiness incarnate, then why does buyers remorse exist?
A psychological study by the research team at Cornell University looked into this phenomenon, trying to ascertain whether exactly spending can make us happy.
The study, looking at the different ways we spend our money, attempted to determine the “hedonic payoff”, or the amount of happiness we experienced from each purchase.
“Given a world in which consumers have limited discretionary income (that is the real world for nearly everyone), an important concern is how they can get the most hedonic bang for their bucks. Although the relationship between money and happiness has been the subject of considerable debate… few would deny that the financial choices people make can influence their well-being. That is, perhaps money can make us happier, provided we spend it on the right things.”
The study, entitled We’ll Always Have Paris, takes its cues from the famous Humphrey Bogart quote from ‘Casablanca’. The idea of the lasting nature of memory, sparked the researchers’ quest into what leaves us the happiest.
Researchers found that experiences, over material things, provided us with longer-lasting happiness.
Spending money on making memories far outweighs the benefits of spending money on things, according to the study.
Whether that be travelling to a new country, perusing an art gallery, jumping out of an aeroplane or simply eating dinner in an exciting restaurant – these experiences provide memories, more so than material possessions.
The study’s team pointed to boredom, as a contributing factor to why experiences provide lasting effects, over products.
“Once we get used to them they provide very little in terms of lasting happiness, causing us to want more and more, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the ‘hedonic treadmill.'”
After all, you never hear of buyers remorse after returning from a holiday do you?
“It is hard to romanticise a car or computer that breaks down frequently, or a shirt or sofa that is uncomfortable. Experiences, in contrast, live on only in the mind as mental representations that can be altered, reworked, and made more favourable.”
So next time you reach for your wallet, think about what will make you happier in the long run – a memory that will last forever, or a new bag that won’t?