Conventional wisdom suggests that “money can’t buy you happiness”. This might be not true. But at least at one point prosperity is disadvantageous. Wealth can reduce anticipation. Those with money can buy whatever they want right away. Then impatience is satisfied, but the fascinating feeling of anticipation is missing.
The psychologist Amit Kumar found out (and published it in the paper “Waiting for Merlot – Anticipatory Consumption of Experiential and Material Purchases“) that experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having).
Kumar writes: “Consumers derive value from anticipation, and that value tends to be greater for experiential than for material purchases.”
Why is it greater for experiential purchases?
According to Kumar, for two reasons:
- First, when we anticipate buying a thing, we know what we’re getting. That limits our imagination. That is different from experiential purchases. Kumar: “These more abstract thoughts about experiences can make them seem more significant, and hence more gratifying.”
- Second, there is a so-called Keeping-Up-Effect. We are social beings. We compare ourselves to each other. Often about material things. Material purchases are way more susceptible to anxiety-provoking comparisons than experiential ones, which may extend to the period before the purchase or acquisition of stuff.
So it might be good advice to watch out for such experiential purchases when shopping for Christmas presents.
Here is another piece of advice by Kumar: leave a time gap between giving and consuming the gift. Kumar again:
“It might make sense for consumers to delay their consumption of some experiential purchases to take advantage of the relatively more exciting anticipatory period that comes with experiential consumption. That is, it might be a good idea to make that restaurant reservation well in advance, to buy the tickets to the show beforehand, to start planning that vacation ahead of time. This increases the amount of time one can spend savoring his or her future consumption. You get extra time to imagine all the different foods you might eat, the songs the band might include in the set list, the feeling of the sand between your toes, and so on.”
- (german) Wann Vorfreude am Schönsten ist – und wann nicht
- (english) To Enjoy an Experience More, Wait for It Longer