More Research on Buying Experiences vs. Things

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travelsignpostYou’ve probably heard the advice that you should buy experiences and not things. (Except maybe when things help you experience.) This Atlantic article explores new findings from behavioral research about the differences between experiences and material objects.

With experiences, people are less competitive and worry less about keeping up with the Jones’:

Gilovich’s prior work has shown that experiences tend to make people happier because they are less likely to measure the value of their experiences by comparing them to those of others. For example, Gilbert and company note in their new paper, many people are unsure if they would rather have a high salary that is lower than that of their peers, or a lower salary that is higher than that of their peers. With an experiential good like vacation, that dilemma doesn’t hold. Would you rather have two weeks of vacation when your peers only get one? Or four weeks when your peers get eight? People choose four weeks with little hesitation.

Experiences elicit positive feelings and promote social togetherness rather than creating impatience and worries about scarcity.

Those waiting for experiences were in better moods than those waiting for material goods. “You read these stories about people rioting, pepper-spraying, treating each other badly when they have to wait,” he said. It turns out, those sorts of stories are much more likely to occur when people are waiting to acquire a possession than an experience. When people are waiting to get concert tickets or in line at a new food truck, their moods tend to be much more positive. […]

Research has also found that people tend to be more generous to others when they’ve just thought about an experiential purchase as opposed to a material purchase. They’re also more likely to pursue social activities.

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  1. People pepper spray each other while waiting in line to buy stuff?

    I mean I know theres an occasional stampede or fist fight when the Walmart doors open on Black Friday but I don’t think riots are normal occurrences in the check out line at the grocery store.

  2. On a relative scale, I guess people might be slightly less apt to keep up or live in harmony, but on an absolute scale, I think the difference between the two is negligible. Just yesterday I was pushed forcibly by an old lady in a crowd while trying to get into a popular metropolitan zoo at its opening time. Ridiculous. And if you’ve ever traveled much, particularly for business, then you know that people today absolutely try to keep up with the Jones’s just as much on the experience side as the material side. Just look at the explosion of large events created in the last decade. There are a lot of people spending a lot of money simply to say “I did it” in an attempt to impress other people.

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