When do vacations make you happier than new TV’s? When do they not?

There’s been a lot of discussion about experiences (like going on vacation) making us more happier than things (like buying a new TV.) Often, it’s true:

Asked which of the two purchases made them happier, fully 57% of respondents reported that they had derived greater happiness from their experiential purchase, while only 34% reported greater happiness from their material purchase.

Why do experiences win?

  • We quickly take material goods for granted. This happens more slowly with experiences.
  • We anticipate and remember experiences more, savoring them for longer and squeezing more enjoyment from them.

But experiences aren’t always better for happiness. When they go well, they’re better. When they go bad, they’re worse:

…experiences do lead to more happiness when the purchase goes well. “However, for negative purchases, bad experiences lead to more lasting unhappiness than do bad material purchases. Experiences ‘stay with’ us longer than material purchases, whether good or bad. They simply have more lasting power over our happiness. Imagine that really terrible play or restaurant meal—it is tougher to recover from picking the wrong experience than from picking the wrong thing.”

And motivation matters too. If you’re engaging in those experiences just to impress others you don’t get the happiness boost:

“Why you buy is just as important as what you buy,” said Ryan Howell, 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.”

So experiences aren’t universally better. You need to be strategic. Invest in experiences you’re confident will be enjoyable and don’t be focused on showing off.


  • Want to increase the pleasure you get from experiences? Interrupt them.

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