Holiday Shopping May Make You Happier Over Time: How Consumerism Changes Your Mood

First Posted: Dec 22, 2015 10:09 AM EST

It's a material world, and a new study proves it. Scientists have found that shopping can provide more frequent happiness over time. In contrast, purchases that involve experiences, like a trip to the zoo, provide more intense happiness on individual occasions.

The majority of previous studies examining material and experiential purchases and happiness focused on what people anticipated about shopping or remembered about items and experiences. In this case, though, the researchers wanted to know how people felt in the moment. To answer this question, they assessed the real-time, momentary happiness people got from material and experiential purchases, up to five times per day for two weeks.

By having people record their thoughts in the weeks following their purchases, as well as one month after their purchases, the researchers showed that material and experiential purchases bring happiness in two different ways. Material purchases bring repeated doses of happiness over time in the weeks after they are bought. Experiential purchases, though, offer a more intense but fleeting dose of happiness.

"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 Aaron Weidman, one of the researchers, in a news 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. In contrast, 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."

The findings reveal a bit more about how different shopping experiences provide different types of happiness.

The findings are published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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