Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy the perfect gift to do the trick, according to new research out of the University of British Columbia. In a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers show that, contrary to what other studies have found, material purchases provide more happiness than experiential 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," said the study’s co-author Aaron Weidman, a research at the University of British Columbia, in a press release. "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. 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."

How was Weidman and his research partner Elizabeth Dunn able to figure out if a material possession makes a person happier than an experience? They gave $20 to a group of 67 participants, who were asked to make either a material or experiential purchase that they believed would make them happier. Five times a day over the course of two weeks, participants were asked a series of questioned designed to evaluate their levels of happiness. This gave researchers insight into their real-time happiness from material items versus the intense momentary happiness an experience can bring.

Some of the purchased materials included portable speakers, coffee makers, and reindeer leggings, while experiential purchases included a weekend ski trip, tickets to a hockey game, and spa gift cards. They found material purchases gave people repeated doses of happiness over the course of each day, whereas experiential purchases caused a more intense initial happiness that decreased over time. Ultimately, researchers concluded material purchases bring a person greater long-lasting happiness than an experience could ever achieve over time.

Another recent study, conducted by researchers at University of Pennsylvania and the University of Toronto Scarborough, argues the opposite is true. Researchers set up a similar experiment, except this one involved $10, which was given to randomly assigned pairs of friends — one was the gift giver and the other was the receiver. After the exchange, researchers asked each person about their feelings and discovered when recipients received experiential gifts, regardless whether or not the giver and receiver shared the same interests, the receiver felt more connected to the giver. Experiential gifts may bring less happiness over time as seen in the first study, but they bring people closer together than material gifts do at the time of exchange.

“One of the reasons that buying experiences is better is because you always have that memory to return back to, whereas people adapt to things really quickly,” said the study’s co-author Cindy Chan, a professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, in a press release. “It sits on your shelf and you engage with it every day, and so it loses its shiny, bright newness. Whereas memories, every time you refer back to it, it’s just as shiny and bright.”

Source: Weidman AC and Dunn E. The Unsung Benefits of Material Things: Material Purchases Provide More Frequent Momentary Happiness Than Experiential Purchases, Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2015.