So Hollywood actress Bo Derek was right but for the wrong reasons.

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping”– Bo Derek

Could it be where you shop, not what you buy that matters? Perhaps so. A meta-analysis just published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology confirms that experiences (such as where you go shopping) rather than stuff (what you buy) drive consumer happiness.

More crucially, Cornell researchers Thomas Gilovich, Amit Kumar, Lily Jampoland reveal the three psychological drivers for why we derive more happiness from experiences than stuff

  • Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods because they create ‘social capital’ that prompts conversation and story telling, whilst fostering a sense of relatedness between people (especially when similar experiences are shared (relatedness is one of the three core psychological drivers of human happiness –  competence, autonomy, relatedness))
  • Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person’s identity because our sense of self is based more on what we do rather than what we own
  • Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons, thus avoiding the status anxiety associated with material possessions

These are useful insights into the ‘experiential imperative’ of contemporary consumer society – if you want to be happier, buy life experiences instead of material items.  And if you want your customers to be happy, offer them a self-defining unique experience worth talking about – either in what you sell or how you sell it.  You’ll benefit from a lasting experiential afterglow that is largely absent in the short-lived enjoyment of purchasing stuff.

Gilovich, T., Kumar, A., & Jampol, L. (2014). A wonderful life: Experiential consumption and the pursuit of happinessJournal of Consumer Psychology25(1), 138-151.