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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
2003, Vol. 85, No. 6, 1193–1202
0022-3514/03/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.6.1193
To Do or to Have? That Is the Question
Leaf Van Boven
Thomas Gilovich
University of Colorado at Boulder
Cornell University
Do experiences make people happier than material possessions? In two surveys, respondents from
various demographic groups indicated that experiential purchases—those made with the primary inten-
tion of acquiring a life experience—made them happier than material purchases. In a follow-up
laboratory experiment, participants experienced more positive feelings after pondering an experiential
purchase than after pondering a material purchase. In another experiment, participants were more likely
to anticipate that experiences would make them happier than material possessions after adopting a
temporally distant, versus a temporally proximate, perspective. The discussion focuses on evidence that
experiences make people happier because they are more open to positive reinterpretations, are a more
meaningful part of one’s identity, and contribute more to successful social relationships.
We live in a world of unprecedented abundance. Although few
are the cause of happiness” but claimed that “leisure of itself gives
of us can live up to the advertising slogan that invites us to “have
pleasure and happiness and enjoyment in life” (trans. 1996, pp. 185
it all,” a growing swath of the population in developed countries
and 197). Some time later, the bible has Jesus admonishing, “one’s
has more discretionary income than ever before. We devote a
life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15,
considerable portion of our resources to the pursuit of “the good
New King James Version). More recently, Fromm (1976) criti-
life”— one of contentment, pleasure, and happiness. For many of
cized industrialized societies for neglecting “being” in favor of
us, deciding how to invest our resources to maximize happiness is
“having”—an emphasis he believed inhibits self-actualization. Sci-
a challenge: We wonder whether we are as happy as we might be,
tovsky (1976) similarly suggested that people in industrialized
given the resources at our disposal. We wonder whether more
societies, particularly the United States, have created a “joyless
money, more leisure, or more stuff would make us happier. These
economy” by pursuing “comforts” (which eliminate pains but
queries may not apply to everyone, of course; individuals with
produce little or no enjoyment) to the detriment of short-lived
severely limited resources may (rightfully) worry more about
“pleasures.” Summarizing evidence across the social sciences,
satisfying basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing (Maslow,
Frank (1999) observed that across-the-board “increases in our
1943). But for the fortunate majority in developed countries who
stocks of material goods produce virtually no measurable gains in
enjoy a substantial measure of discretionary income, one can ask
our psychological or physical well-being. Bigger houses and faster
whether there is a simple, empirically grounded strategy to guide
cars, it seems, don’t make us any happier” (p. 6).
the allocation of resources in the pursuit of happiness.
Consistent with these ideas, prior research demonstrates that
The thesis examined in this article is that happiness is advanced
materialistic people tend to report lower subjective well-being than
more by allocating discretionary income toward the acquisition of
nonmaterialistic people. People who strongly agree with such
life experiences than toward the acquisition of material posses-
statements as “Some of the most important achievements in life
sions. “The good life,” in other words, may be better lived by
include acquiring material possessions” and “Buying things gives
doing things than by having things.
me a lot of pleasure” report lower levels of satisfaction with life
than people who disagree with such statements (Belk, 1985; Rich-
Materialism
ins & Dawson, 1992). More generally, people who endorse such
extrinsic aspirations as “You will buy things just because you want
Our research follows a humanistic tradition critical of material
them” report lower levels of well-being (Kasser & Ryan, 1993,
pursuits. Aristotle observed that “men fancy that external goods
1996). According to self-determination theory, focusing on exter-
nal rewards fails to satisfy needs for autonomy, competence, and
Leaf Van Boven, Department of Psychology, University of Colorado at
relatedness, thereby hindering self-actualization and personal in-
Boulder; Thomas Gilovich, Department of Psychology, Cornell University.
tegration (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Kasser, 2002; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant
Our investigation expands these findings by examining whether
9809262 and by a grant from the Positive Psychology Young Scholars
investing in experiences generally makes people happier than
program. We thank Robert Frank and George Loewenstein for comments
investing in possessions.
on an earlier version of this article. We thank Alex Heath, Mina Myong,
Erika Norman, and Adam Rokshar for their help collecting data. We give
special thanks to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and Harris Interac-
Experiential Versus Material Investments
tive for conducting the National Survey.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Leaf Van
A central challenge of our research is to delineate a distinction
Boven, University of Colorado at Boulder, Department of Psychology,
between experiences and possessions that is both theoretically
UCB 345, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0345. E-mail: vanboven@colorado
meaningful and intuitively resonant in everyday life. An intuitive,
.edu or tdg1@cornell.edu
1193
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
2003, Vol. 85, No. 6, 1193–1202
0022-3514/03/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.6.1193
To Do or to Have? That Is the Question
Leaf Van Boven
Thomas Gilovich
University of Colorado at Boulder
Cornell University
Do experiences make people happier than material possessions? In two surveys, respondents from
various demographic groups indicated that experiential purchases—those made with the primary inten-
tion of acquiring a life experience—made them happier than material purchases. In a follow-up
laboratory experiment, participants experienced more positive feelings after pondering an experiential
purchase than after pondering a material purchase. In another experiment, participants were more likely
to anticipate that experiences would make them happier than material possessions after adopting a
temporally distant, versus a temporally proximate, perspective. The discussion focuses on evidence that
experiences make people happier because they are more open to positive reinterpretations, are a more
meaningful part of one’s identity, and contribute more to successful social relationships.
We live in a world of unprecedented abundance. Although few
are the cause of happiness” but claimed that “leisure of itself gives
of us can live up to the advertising slogan that invites us to “have
pleasure and happiness and enjoyment in life” (trans. 1996, pp. 185
it all,” a growing swath of the population in developed countries
and 197). Some time later, the bible has Jesus admonishing, “one’s
has more discretionary income than ever before. We devote a
life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15,
considerable portion of our resources to the pursuit of “the good
New King James Version). More recently, Fromm (1976) criti-
life”— one of contentment, pleasure, and happiness. For many of
cized industrialized societies for neglecting “being” in favor of
us, deciding how to invest our resources to maximize happiness is
“having”—an emphasis he believed inhibits self-actualization. Sci-
a challenge: We wonder whether we are as happy as we might be,
tovsky (1976) similarly suggested that people in industrialized
given the resources at our disposal. We wonder whether more
societies, particularly the United States, have created a “joyless
money, more leisure, or more stuff would make us happier. These
economy” by pursuing “comforts” (which eliminate pains but
queries may not apply to everyone, of course; individuals with
produce little or no enjoyment) to the detriment of short-lived
severely limited resources may (rightfully) worry more about
“pleasures.” Summarizing evidence across the social sciences,
satisfying basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing (Maslow,
Frank (1999) observed that across-the-board “increases in our
1943). But for the fortunate majority in developed countries who
stocks of material goods produce virtually no measurable gains in
enjoy a substantial measure of discretionary income, one can ask
our psychological or physical well-being. Bigger houses and faster
whether there is a simple, empirically grounded strategy to guide
cars, it seems, don’t make us any happier” (p. 6).
the allocation of resources in the pursuit of happiness.
Consistent with these ideas, prior research demonstrates that
The thesis examined in this article is that happiness is advanced
materialistic people tend to report lower subjective well-being than
more by allocating discretionary income toward the acquisition of
nonmaterialistic people. People who strongly agree with such
life experiences than toward the acquisition of material posses-
statements as “Some of the most important achievements in life
sions. “The good life,” in other words, may be better lived by
include acquiring material possessions” and “Buying things gives
doing things than by having things.
me a lot of pleasure” report lower levels of satisfaction with life
than people who disagree with such statements (Belk, 1985; Rich-
Materialism
ins & Dawson, 1992). More generally, people who endorse such
extrinsic aspirations as “You will buy things just because you want
Our research follows a humanistic tradition critical of material
them” report lower levels of well-being (Kasser & Ryan, 1993,
pursuits. Aristotle observed that “men fancy that external goods
1996). According to self-determination theory, focusing on exter-
nal rewards fails to satisfy needs for autonomy, competence, and
Leaf Van Boven, Department of Psychology, University of Colorado at
relatedness, thereby hindering self-actualization and personal in-
Boulder; Thomas Gilovich, Department of Psychology, Cornell University.
tegration (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Kasser, 2002; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant
Our investigation expands these findings by examining whether
9809262 and by a grant from the Positive Psychology Young Scholars
investing in experiences generally makes people happier than
program. We thank Robert Frank and George Loewenstein for comments
investing in possessions.
on an earlier version of this article. We thank Alex Heath, Mina Myong,
Erika Norman, and Adam Rokshar for their help collecting data. We give
special thanks to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and Harris Interac-
Experiential Versus Material Investments
tive for conducting the National Survey.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Leaf Van
A central challenge of our research is to delineate a distinction
Boven, University of Colorado at Boulder, Department of Psychology,
between experiences and possessions that is both theoretically
UCB 345, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0345. E-mail: vanboven@colorado
meaningful and intuitively resonant in everyday life. An intuitive,
.edu or tdg1@cornell.edu
1193
VAN BOVEN AND GILOVICH
1194
easily recognized distinction would advance the practical aim of
Study 1: Recent Purchases
helping individuals decide how to allocate their discretionary
How can we examine whether experiences make people happier
resources. The difficulty, of course, is that the distinction is not
than material possessions? The simplest approach is to ask them.
always clear-cut. Nearly everyone would deem a hike in the
Accordingly, we asked respondents to describe either the most
Himalayas to be an experience and a new Patek-Phillipe watch to
recent experiential purchase or the most recent material purchase
be a possession. But what about a flat-screen TV or an automobile?
they had made for more than $100, and to rate how happy the
Are they possessions or vehicles for experiences?
purchase made them. We anticipated that respondents would report
Although such ambiguities create some interpretive difficulties,
that experiential purchases made them happier than material
they do not render the distinction meaningless. At dusk, it can be
purchases.
difficult to discern whether it is really day or night, but that does
We also asked respondents to evaluate the wisdom of their
not undermine the utility of the general distinction between night
purchase from an economic standpoint. If people believe that their
and day. One way to meet this interpretive challenge is to rely on
experiences make them happier than their material possessions, do
people’s intentions when investing in their happiness. Thus, expe-
they also deem their experiences to be better financial investments
riential purchases are those made with the primary intention of
than their possessions? Material possessions, after all, are physi-
acquiring a life experience: an event or series of events that one
cally retained over time whereas experiences are not. The contin-
lives through. Material purchases are those made with the primary
ued enjoyment of experiences is only indirect—a pleasant mem-
intention of acquiring a material good: a tangible object that is kept
ory, a favorable self-perception, or an enjoyable story to tell.
in one’s possession.
People might therefore judge material possessions to be better
In drawing this intention-based distinction, we were inspired by
financial investments, even if they do not make them happier. We
two related dichotomies. First, consumer behavior researchers
examined this possibility by asking respondents to rate the extent
to which the money spent on their purchase was “money well-
have recently distinguished between hedonic goods, those acquired
spent” and whether they thought the money could have been better
with the primary intention of fostering enjoyment, and utilitarian
spent on something else.
goods, those acquired with the primary intention of achieving
We also investigated whether people recognize and make con-
practical aims (Dhar & Wertenbroch, 2000; Kivetz & Strahilovitz,
sistent distinctions between experiential and material purchases by
2000). A second distinction is the one mentioned earlier between
asking some respondents (“outsiders”) to evaluate other people’s
extrinsic goals, which “depend on the contingent reactions of
purchases. Our definition of experiential and material purchases
others,” and intrinsic goals, which express “desires congruent with
rests on people’s ideographic intentions regarding their invest-
actualizing and growth tendencies natural to humans” (Kasser &
ment. The same purchase (a car) can have different meanings for
Ryan, 1996, p. 280). Like ours, these distinctions are imprecise. Is
some people (“I need better handling on mountain turns”) than for
installing a “professional” gas stove in one’s kitchen hedonic or
others (“I want to add to my collection”). Because people have
utilitarian? Does exercising reflect an intrinsic goal to be healthy,
little or no access to the intentions surrounding a stranger’s pur-
or an extrinsic goal to be physically attractive to others? Despite
chase, they must infer the intentions from the purchase itself. We
these ambiguities, the distinctions between hedonic and utilitarian
were therefore interested in whether outsiders would categorize
purchases and between intrinsic and extrinsic goals have proved
purchases the same as the respondents themselves.
useful to researchers. And, as we shall demonstrate, the categorical
distinction between experiential and material purchases, imprecise
Method
and imperfect though it may be, is readily recognized and widely
shared.
Main survey. Ninety-seven University of British Columbia (UBC)
undergraduates completed a survey in exchange for a chocolate bar. The
survey concerned “a purchase you have made with the intention of ad-
The Present Studies
vancing your happiness and enjoyment in life.” Respondents randomly
assigned to the experiential purchase condition were asked to think of the
We examined whether investing discretionary income in life
most recent experiential purchase they made for more than $100 and that
experiences makes people happier than investing in material pos-
involved “spending money with the primary intention of acquiring a life
sessions. In an initial survey, we asked people to think of experi-
experience—an event or series of events that you personally encounter or
live through.” Respondents in the material purchase condition were asked
ences and material possessions they purchased during the past
to think of their most recent material purchase of more than $100 that
month (Study 1), and to indicate how happy those investments
involved “spending money with the primary intention of acquiring a
made them. In a larger national survey, we investigated whether
material possession—a tangible object that you obtain and keep in your
people from different demographic groups would report that life
possession.”
experiences made them happier (Study 2). Bringing our investiga-
Respondents then indicated how happy their purchase made them. They
tion into the lab, we examined the impact of thinking about
were asked, “When you think about this purchase, how happy does it make
experiential versus material purchases on people’s current moods
you?” which they answered on a scale ranging from 1 (not happy) to 5
(moderately happy) to 9 (extremely happy). They were also asked, “How
(Study 3). Finally, we examined whether experiences might make
much does this purchase contribute to your happiness in life?” which they
people happier than possessions partly because experiences are
answered on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (moderately) to 9 (very
evaluated more favorably over time. Specifically, we examined
much). Respondents also answered two questions about the financial wis-
whether people who adopted a temporally distant perspective
dom of their purchase: “To what extent would you say this purchase is
expressed a stronger preference for experiences than people who
money well-spent?” which they answered on a scale ranging from 1 (not
adopted a temporally proximate perspective (Study 4).
well-spent) to 5 (moderately well-spent) to 9 (very well-spent); and, “To
EXPERIENCES VERSUS POSSESSIONS
1195
category. Outsiders rated the experiential purchases as more ex-
what extent do you think the money spent on this purchase would have
been better spent on something else—some other type of purchase that
periential (M
7.34) than the material purchases (M
3.23),
would have made you happier?” which they answered on a scale ranging
t(41)
15.29, p
.001. Furthermore, outsiders predicted that
from 1 (not at all) to 5 (moderately) to 9 (very much).
purchases originally described as experiential would make them
Outsiders. Several weeks after completion of the main survey, 42 UBC
happier (M
6.78) than purchases originally described as material
undergraduates received a candy bar in exchange for reading short sum-
(M
4.25), t(41)
9.41, p
.001.
maries of between 15 and 20 randomly selected purchase descriptions from
These findings bolster the claim that the distinction between
the main survey, approximately half of which were experiential purchases.
experiential and material purchases is widely shared and readily
The outsiders read the same definition of experiential and material pur-
recognized in everyday life. That this distinction was easily made
chases given to the survey respondents, but were not told whether the
by outsiders—people who did not themselves acquire the pur-
purchases were originally listed as experiential or material. Outsiders rated
the extent to which each purchase was experiential or material on a scale
chases—suggests that the experiential and material properties are
ranging from 1 ( purely material) to 5 (equally experiential and material)
somewhat inherent to the purchases themselves, not only to peo-
to 9 ( purely experiential). They also rated how happy each purchase would
ple’s idiographic intentions regarding the purchase. The distinction
make them on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all happy) to 9 (extremely
between experiential and material purchases is thus both concep-
happy).
tually meaningful and intuitively compelling to people in everyday
life.
Results and Discussion
The between-respondents design of this study casts doubt on the
possibility that our results are an artifact of social desirability
As anticipated, respondents asked to evaluate an experiential
concerns. To be sure, people may often be more comfortable
purchase indicated that it made them happier than did those asked
saying that they are made happier by their experiences than by
1
to evaluate a material purchase (see Table 1).
Respondents also
their material possessions. Indeed, as we describe later, one reason
indicated that experiential purchases were better financial invest-
why experiences tend to make people happier is the negative
ments than material purchases. Participants indicated that, com-
stereotype associated with being materialistic—a stereotype that
pared with material purchases, experiential purchases made them
could make people reluctant to trumpet the hedonic value of their
happier, t(95)
2.91, p
.005, contributed more to their happi-
possessions. However, because respondents in this survey were
ness in life, t(95)
2.44, p
.017, and represented money better
never asked to compare experiential and material possessions
spent, t(95)
2.26, p
.026. Respondents were also less inclined
directly, social desirability concerns were less likely to have in-
to say that the money spent on experiences could have been better
fluenced their responses. We present additional evidence against
spent elsewhere than the money spent on material possessions,
the social desirability interpretation in Study 3.
t(95)
–1.94, p
.056.
Respondents’ purchase descriptions suggest that the distinction
Study 2: National Survey
between experiential and material purchases resonates with people
in everyday life (see Table 2). There is very little overlap between
How widespread is this tendency of experiences to provide
the two types of purchase descriptions: The most frequently de-
greater hedonic value than material possessions? Is it true for men
scribed category of experiential purchases (fees and admissions)
and women? Young and old? Black and White? Rich and poor?
was described by only 1 respondent as a material purchase; the
The relatively small sample of respondents in Study 1 and the
most frequently described category of material purchases (clothing
reliance on university students do not allow a full examination of
and jewelry) was described by only 1 respondent as an experiential
these questions. We therefore explored in a national survey
purchase.
whether people from various demographic groups would endorse
Outsiders evaluating other people’s purchases—for which out-
the hedonic superiority of experiential purchases over possessions.
siders must guess the purchaser’s intentions—also recognized this
distinction. The parenthetical numbers in Table 2 present outsid-
Method
ers’ average ratings of purchase descriptions within each purchase
A nationwide cross-section of 1,279 Americans, aged 21– 69, was sur-
veyed between November and December 2000 by Harris Interactive on
behalf of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network. The survey was con-
Table 1
ducted over the telephone, with respondents solicited through random-digit
Study 1: Recent Purchases. Respondents’ Evaluations of
dialing. Respondents were those who identified themselves as the “primary
Experiential and Material Purchases Made During the
financial decision makers in their households.” Most of the approximately
Preceding Month, and “Outsiders’” Ratings of How Happy
180-item survey concerned respondents’ attitudes and behaviors with re-
Other People’s Purchases Would Make Them
spect to financial planning, such as “How much money would you need to
feel secure about your financial future?” Toward the end of the survey,
Type of purchase
respondents were asked to think of an experiential and a material purchase
they had made during their lifetime with “the aim of increasing your
Evaluation
Experiential Material
Main survey
1
How happy does thinking about it make you?
7.51
6.62
There was no reliable difference in the cost of material and experiential
Contributed to your overall happiness in life?
6.40
5.42
purchases (medians
$150 and $190, respectively). There was a margin-
Money well spent?
7.30
6.42
ally reliable tendency for material purchases to be purchased more recently
Better spent on something else?
3.77
4.52
(M
2.54 months ago) than experiential purchases (M
4.70 months
Outsiders’ evaluation
ago), t(95)
1.85, p
.07. Statistically controlling for this difference did
Anticipated happiness
6.78
4.25
not alter any of the results.
VAN BOVEN AND GILOVICH
1196
Table 2
Study 1: Recent Purchases. Percentage of Experiential and Material Purchases in Each of 10
Categories
Type of purchase
Purchase category
Experiential
Material
Beauty spas and products
4% (2.57)
2% (4.10)
Books and compact discs
2% (4.22)
Clothing and jewelry
2% (3.57)
62% (2.86)
Dining
17% (7.60)
Fees and admissions (to concerts, ski slopes, etc.)
43% (7.49)
2% (6.00)
Televisions, stereo, and computer equipment
26% (3.47)
Travel
32% (7.51)
Other
2% (4.77)
6% (4.92)
Note. A dash indicates there was no purchase description in that category. Numbers in parentheses are
“outsiders’” ratings of the extent to which the purchase was experiential versus material on a scale ranging from
1 ( purely material) to 5 (equally material and experiential) to 9 ( purely experiential).
made them happier. These patterns are perhaps not surprising.
happiness.” Respondents were then asked, “When you think about these
two purchases, which makes you happier?” They answered by selecting
Individuals with little or no discretionary income (typically those
“my experiential purchase,” “my material purchase,” “not sure,” or “de-
with the least education) must allocate most of their resources
cline to answer.”
toward the satisfaction of basic needs, and may have fewer oppor-
tunities to worry about the relative benefits of experiences and
Results and Discussion
possessions in the pursuit of happiness.
Although one can speculate about potential causes underlying
Respondents who declined to answer whether their experiential
the demographic differences in endorsement of experiential over
or material purchase made them happier (1%) were excluded from
material purchases, such speculation should be viewed with cau-
all analyses (resulting N
1,263).
tion. Because respondents did not provide us with purchase de-
As expected, respondents were substantially more likely to
scriptions in this survey, we cannot discern whether the differential
report that their experiential purchases made them happier than
endorsement of experiences over material possessions stems from
their material purchases (57%, 95% confidence interval
54%–
evaluations of different types of purchases or from different eval-
60%) than they were to report that their material purchases made
uations of similar purchases. It is quite likely that younger, wealth-
them happier than their experiential purchases (34%, 95% confi-
ier, more educated individuals purchase different types of experi-
dence interval
31%–37%).
ences than older, less educated, and less wealthy individuals. It is
Our primary interest, however, was the relationship between
also possible that these different groups purchase similar kinds of
respondents’ demographic profiles and their endorsement of ex-
experiences and possessions, but evaluate them differently. We
periential over material purchases. As illustrated in Table 3, across
suspect that wealthier, more educated people may have been
a variety of demographic categories, respondents were more likely
acculturated and educated in a system that emphasizes self-
to report that their experiential purchases made them happier than
actualization, which might help them reap greater psychological
they were to report the reverse. That is not to say that there were
benefits from experiences. Establishing causal clarity and unpack-
no demographic differences: Women, younger individuals, and
ing these demographic differences is an important issue for further
those living in urban or suburban communities were a bit more
research.
likely to indicate that experiences made them happier than were
men, elderly people, and those living in rural communities. How-
ever, even in those categories less likely to favor experiences over
Study 3: Mood Experiment
possessions, a greater proportion of respondents indicated that
their experiences made them happier than the reverse. Reporting
Respondents in the previous surveys reported that their experi-
that experiences make one happier than possessions is thus the rule
ential purchases made them happier than their material purchases.
not the exception.
Our interpretation of these results assumes, as do many subjective
A further demographic difference is noteworthy. Respondents’
well-being researchers, that people can accurately report their own
level of income (see Figure 1) was positively associated with their
happiness (Larsen, Diener, & Emmons, 1985; Lyubomirsky &
endorsement of experiential over material possessions—so much
Lepper, 1999). This assumption is substantiated by findings indi-
so that respondents with the lowest levels of income were equally
cating that self-reported measures of happiness are internally con-
likely to indicate that material or experiential purchases made them
sistent, stable, and converge with informant and spouse reports
happier. A similar pattern emerged for education, which is highly
(Costa & McCrae, 1980; Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999). But
correlated with income (cf. Witter, Okun, Stock, & Haring, 1984).
critics of this assumption note that transient, contextual factors can
In fact, people with the lowest levels of education (some high
influence measures of subjective well-being (e.g., Schwarz &
school or less) were slightly more likely to indicate that material
Strack, 1999). And even if people can report their own subjective
possessions made them happier, whereas respondents with at least
well-being, they may not be able to accurately report the causes of
a high school degree were more likely to indicate that experiences
their well-being. Partly because of these concerns, some research-
EXPERIENCES VERSUS POSSESSIONS
1197
Table 3
Study 2: National Survey
Type of purchase
Demographic category
Experiential
Material
Age
21–34 (350)
59%
36%
35–54 (645)
58%
31%
55–69 (268)
49%
38%
Employment
Employed full or part-time (941)
58%
33%
Retired or unemployed (218)
47%
39%
Students and homemakers (102)
67%
25%
Ethnicity
White (1,000)
58%
33%
Black/African American (133)
53%
36%
Asian/Pacific Islander (17)
47%
29%
Other/decline to answer (113)
46%
42%
Gender
Male (591)
51%
38%
Female (672)
62%
30%
Marital status
Single, separated, or divorced (336)
60%
32%
Married or living together (895)
56%
34%
Political affiliation
Democrat (418)
55%
35%
Republican (454)
63%
29%
Independent (267)
57%
33%
Region
East (288)
59%
33%
South (411)
55%
35%
Midwest (295)
57%
32%
West (267)
56%
35%
Residential environment
Urban (363)
56%
35%
Suburban (654)
59%
31%
Rural (246)
49%
40%
Note. Percentage of respondents in various demographic categories who indicated that their experiential
purchase made them happier than their material purchase, and the percentage indicating the reverse. The
remaining percentage in each demographic category was unsure whether experiential or material purchases made
them happier. Numbers in parentheses represent the number of respondents in each demographic category (N
1,263). Respondents within each demographic category who declined to answer are not included in the table.
ers advocate the abandonment of global assessments of well-being
Method
in favor of moment-to-moment reports of feelings (e.g., Kahne-
Seventy Cornell University undergraduates were offered course credit to
man, 1999; Stone, Shiffman, & DeVries, 1999).
2
participate in two sessions, approximately 1 week apart.
Upon arrival at
We designed an experiment with this critique in mind. We asked
the first session, participants completed a “Background Questionnaire” that
participants to describe either an experiential or material purchase.
the experimenter described as a tool that would “assess factors that may or
One week later, we asked them to read their description and ponder
may not affect behavior in experiments.” The questionnaire contained two
their purchase. At both times, we measured participants’ current
measures of participants’ current mood. Participants first rated their current
feelings. If, as we hypothesize, thinking about experiential pur-
mood on two bipolar scales, one ranging from – 4 (bad) to
4 (good), and
chases makes people happier than thinking about material pur-
another ranging from – 4 (sad) to
4 (happy; cf. Forgas, 1999). Partici-
chases, pondering an experience should have a more positive effect
pants then completed a shortened version of the Affectometer 2 scale,
on participants’ current feelings than pondering a material posses-
which assesses one’s current experience of positive and negative feelings
(Kamman & Flett, 1983). Specifically, participants rated how much each of
sion. This design thus avoids any limitations inherent in retrospec-
14 adjectives described how they felt “right now” on 7-point scales ranging
tive, more global evaluations of happiness. It also permits a closer
from 1 (not at all) to 7 (a great deal). The adjectives were as follows:
examination of the possibility that our earlier results are an artifact
clear-headed, depressed, discontented, enthusiastic, free-and-easy, good-
of social desirability concerns. A report of one’s mood is simply
that—a report of how one feels at the moment for whatever reason.
It is not a report of how one feels because of one type of purchase
2
Although participants were required to attend both sessions to receive
or another, and hence there is no need for participants to disguise
credit, an additional 15 participants (6 in the experiential purchase condi-
their true responses because one type of purchase may be more
tion and 9 in the material purchase condition) did not return for the second
socially desirable than another.
session. Their data are not included in the analyses.
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