When it rains through a beach vacation, as Kumar put it, "People will say, well, you know, we stayed in and we played board games and it was a great family bonding experience or something." Even if it was negative in the moment, it becomes positive after the fact. That's a lot harder to do with material purchases because they're right there in front of you. "When my Macbook has the colorful pinwheel show up," he said, "I can't say, well, at least my computer is malfunctioning!"
"At least my computer and I get to spend more time together because it's working so slowly," I offered.
"Maybe we should destroy our material possessions at their peak, so they will live on in an idealized state in our memories?"
"I don't know if I'd go that far," he said. "The possibility of making material purchases more experiential is sort of interesting."
That means making purchasing an experience, which is terrible marketing-speak, but in practical terms might mean buying something on a special occasion or on vacation or while wearing a truly unique hat. Or tying that purchase to subsequent social interaction. Buy this and you can talk about buying it, and people will talk about you because you have it.
"Turns out people don't like hearing about other people's possessions very much," Kumar said, "but they do like hearing about that time you saw Vampire Weekend."
I can't imagine ever wanting to hear about someone seeing Vampire Weekend, but I get the point. Reasonable people are just more likely to talk about their experiential purchases than their material purchases. It's a nidus for social connection. ("What did you do this weekend?" "Well! I'm so glad you asked ... ")
The most interesting part of the new research, to Kumar, was the part that "implies that there might be notable real-world consequences to this study." It involved analysis of news stories about people waiting in long lines to make a consumer transaction. 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.
"There are actually instances of positivity when people are waiting for experiences," Kumar said, like talking to other people in the concert line about what songs Vampire Weekend might play. So there is opportunity to connect with other people. "We know that social interaction is one of the most important determinants of human happiness, so if people are talking with each other, being nice to one another in the line, it's going to be a lot more pleasant experience than if they're being mean to each other which is what's (more) likely to happen when people are waiting for material goods."