Are You Happy Because You Buy?

Experiential buying may increase happiness unless you are trying to impress others

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) After making a purchase, a person may experience a range of emotions because the purchase has an affect on their overall life-satisfaction. What impacts overall life-satisfaction more is the motivation or reason behind the purchase. 

Research suggests that buying experiences, like concert tickets or fancy dinners, increases happiness when the motivation is for personal reasons.

Experiential purchases, made in order to impress others, did not show an increase in life satisfaction.

"Talk to your psychologist about your spending habits."

"Why you buy is just as important as what you buy," said Ryan Howell, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. "When people buy life experiences to impress others, it wipes out the well-being they receive from the purchase. That extrinsic motivation appears to undermine how the experiential purchase meets their key psychological needs."

In order to explore the motivations for experiential purchases, the researchers developed the Motivation for Experiential Buying Scale (MEBS) and conducted a series of studies.

The scale asks participants to describe, in writing, the last three experiential purchases they have made.

They are then shown a series of statements like “one of the reasons I typically spend money on life experiences is because life experiences represent the kind of person I am” and asked to rate them from 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree).

For one study, 92 participants completed the MEBS twice, 2 weeks apart. They also completed the Basic Needs Satisfaction Scale, the Subjective Vitality Scale, the Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale and the Flourishing Scale. All of these scales attempt to quantify personal life satisfaction in one way or another.

The researchers found that those who purchase experiences based on their own desires show higher life satisfaction than those who buy in order to satisfy the desires of others.

"The biggest question you have to ask yourself is why you are buying something," added Howell. "Motivation appears to amplify or eliminate the happiness effect of a purchase."

The study was published June 2012 in the Journal of Happiness Studies and was funded by San Francisco State University. The study authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 21, 2012
Last Updated:
June 27, 2012