Generally, we define luxury items by their expensive price, exclusivity, high quality, and aesthetic appearance. Previous research has shown that luxury consumption enhances your positive mood while increasing your general satisfaction with life (at least in the short term). Now a new study finds that while ownership of luxury products equates to higher satisfaction, merely using luxuries — borrowing the goods — may actually decrease your feelings of satisfaction and well-being.

“This finding is obtained for both a durable (a pen) and a non-durable (a chocolate),” wrote the authors in their study, published in the latest issue of Applied Research in Quality of Life. In past research, Drs. Liselot Hudders and Mario Pandelaere, both professors at Ghent University, explored whether luxury consumption might reinforce a materialistic lifestyle. By conducting a large scale survey, they were able to demonstrate that materialistic consumers are more inclined to consume luxury goods than people who are less materialistic, but more importantly, the impact of this consumption on their satisfaction with life is more pronounced than for less materialistic consumers. “As a result, luxury consumption may… ‘lock in’ materialists in their lifestyle, irrespective of the long-term adverse consequences for self and society,” the authors wrote in a paper published in Journalism of Happiness Studies.

For their most recent study, the team of researchers divided 307 study participants into two groups and then presented all of them with luxury and ordinary versions of either a durable pen or a consumable block of chocolate. The researchers chose pens and chocolates because they were almost equally appealing to the mostly young participants. Plus, the luxury versions of these items are not too expensive and so studies have found that even frugal consumers are often willing to splurge and buy these affordable luxury goods.

After distributing pens and chocolates, the researchers asked all participants to evaluate whichever product they were given on quality and exclusivity, among other characteristics, while also answering questions about their own sense of well-being. Yet, the study had one catch: while the researchers told one group they could take the chocolate or pen home with them, the other group could only test or taste their products for the duration of the study.

What did the researchers discover? The respondents who were able to keep the luxury versions of the products they tested were the most satisfied with life overall. By comparison, participants who could test but not keep the luxury versions were the least satisfied. Even those respondents who simply evaluated but could not keep the plain versions of pens or chocolate were more satisfied than them.

"The finding that people are more satisfied with life when they own luxury products than when they only get to use them is in line with prior research that equates consumption with ownership," Hudders stated in a press release. "In contrast, the mere use or mere knowledge of luxury products seems to be detrimental for one's satisfaction with life."

One final detail from the study: participants who tested but did not own the chocolate ranked themselves as considerably more satisfied with their lives than those who tested but did not own the pen. Of course they were pleased — they'd just tasted chocolate!

Source: Hudders L, Pandelaere M. Is Having a Taste of Luxury a Good Idea? How Use vs. Ownership of Luxury Products Affects Satisfaction with Life. Applied Research in Quality of Life. 2014.