Doing or Having – which gives us the greater pleasure?

There’s been research evidence for a while that people enjoy longer lasting happiness from experiences (things they do) than from material acquisitions (things they have).

This is partly because enjoyment from experiences can increase over time as we relive them in our minds or tell others about them. In contrast, the pleasure from material acquisitions is likely to decline over time as we get used to having something or even make comparisons with other products we could have bought instead or start encountering  newer models which have appeared since.

4 years ago, we carried out a happiness survey asking people to tell us about something they had enjoyed the previous year – a gift, something they had purchased or something they had done or that had happened to them. 276 people completed the survey. Experiences (predominantly holidays, personal achievements and one-off events ) accounted for 71% of the things reported and material acquisitions for only 8%. (The remainder were relationships with people or dogs!).

I was reminded of this as a result of new research reported last week showing that even the anticipatory period is more pleasurable for experiences than for planned material acquisitions. “Those waiting for an experience tended to be in a better mood and better behaved than those waiting for a material good.

So, yet again, experiences (even free ones) win the day.

It also transpired that wealth and abundance of either experiences or material items may undermine people’s capacity to enjoy the simpler everyday experiences in life. There is something refreshing about knowing that constantly indulging in pleasure and abundance may not be the most productive route to happiness!

So, get on out there and smell the roses!

About Alison Kidd

Research Psychologist
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