Money can't buy happiness, right? Wrong. Books, videos, and other “experiential products” are likely to boost our happiness levels to the same level as life experiences, according to a new study.
San Francisco State University researchers discovered that material items created to enhance an experience can make people just as happy as real life experiences. There are two things happening here: real life experiences help people become closer to others, while experiential products like books can bring people new skills and knowledge, which can result in the same level of happiness, the researchers found. “This is sort of good news for materialists,” said Ryan Howell, associate professor of psychology at the university and author of the study, in a press release. “If your goal is to make yourself happier but you’re a person who likes stuff, then you should buy things that are going to engage your senses. You’re going to be just as happy as if you buy a life experience, because in some sense this product is going to give you a life experience.”
Material things like clothes or jewelry often bring small boosts of happiness that don’t last long. But experiential items bring us knowledge and happiness that lasts longer, the authors say. Humans have three psychological needs: identity expression, or the ability to have an item reflect their values or personality; competence, or the ability to use skills and knowledge; and relatedness, or becoming closer to others. The researchers found that experiential products were more likely to increase a person’s sense of competence, while real life interactions could bring people a higher sense of relatedness.
“They are essentially two different routes to the same well-being,” Howell said. “If you’re not feeling very competent, the best way to alleviate that deprivation would be through the use of experiential products. On the other hand, if you’re feeling lonely, you should buy life experiences and do things with others.”
Drinking with others to the point of losing brain cells might boost your happiness in the relatedness section, but it might not do much in helping you feel competent. Meanwhile, locking yourself up and reading books might increase your knowledge, but won’t satisfy your friendship needs. In short, the best way to increase your happiness level is to do mind-stimulating activities with friends, like joining a book club or going to a museum.
Source: Guevarra, D, Howell, Ry. To have in order to do: Exploring the effects of consuming experiential products on well-being. Journal of Consumer Psychology. 2014.