Stuff has gotten a bad rap of late—mostly for its incompatibility with other lifestyle trends. It won’t fit in your tiny house. Marie Kondo thinks it should be eschewed entirely unless it sparks joy. And there won’t be any need for all your whisks and woks once you switch over to Soylent for sustenance.
Minimalism is hot, culturally, and for years, science has assured us that it was also the path to maximal bliss. The prevailing wisdom is that people who want the most happiness for their buck should buy experiences, not things. The idea is that the joy of an experience begins before it even starts, and continues when you look back on the fancy dinner/vacation/afternoon of LARPing fondly. Experiences provide, in other words, both more anticipatory happiness and afterglow happiness.
But a recent study complicates that picture, suggesting that sweaters and iPhones might make you just as happy, in a way, as cruises and concerts do. There is a third type of happiness—momentary happiness—and it tends to last longer with material goods because people use them for more time than they typically experience their experiences for.
For the study, published in Social Psychology and Personality Science, researchers Aaron Weidman and Elizabeth Dunn from the University of British Columbia gave 67 participants $20 to spend on either an experiential or material purchase of their choice, and then to report one experiential or material gift they had recently received. Then they quizzed them about their happiness levels through text messages and questionnaires.