How People Appreciate Purchasing Experiences More Than Things

by Myla Cruz

A new study from scientific journal Emotion says that people appreciate spending money on experiences more than things. Thinking about the buzz or excitement people get from making purchases, the doctors behind the work looked at what kind of satisfaction different transactions inspire. 

“Think about how you feel when you come home from buying something new,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich in this piece. The professor of psychology at Cornell University and co-author of the new study on gratitude, explains, “You might say, ‘This new couch is cool.’ But, you're less likely to say ‘I’m so grateful for that set of shelves.’”

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On the flips side, Gilovich goes on to explain that, “But when you come home from a vacation, you are likely to say, ‘I feel so blessed I got to go,’” he continued. “People say positive things ab­­­­out the stuff they bought, but they don't usually express gratitude for it—or they don't express it as often as they do for their experiences.” 

Wildly enough, Gilovich’s new study not only shows people express more gratitude in regards to experiences, it also found that this kind of gratitude results in more generous behavior toward others.

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Gilovich and his colleagues looked at 1,200 online customer reviews—half for purchases of material objects and half for experiences like meals, show tickets, and vacations. The professors weren’t surprised to find that reviewers were more likely to bring up feelings of gratitude in posts related to going out and doing things. 

“People tend to be more inspired to comment on their feelings of gratitude when they reflect on the trips they took, the venues they visited or the meals they ate than when they reflect on the gadgets, furniture or clothes they bought,” the authors wrote in the study which was printed in the scientific journal Emotion

The team further examined other ways of testing these theories which echo past research as well. They performed two other exercises, where participants were asked to think for a few minutes about a meaningful purchase, either experiential or material. A few minutes later, they were given a seemingly unrelated task of dividing $10 between themselves and an anonymous recipient. The experiment found that those who had been tasked with remembering an experience or event rather than a material purchase gave away about one-to-two dollars more, on average, than the material group.

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Co-author of the study, Dr. Amit Kumar, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Chicago, says of the link between gratitude and altruistic behavior that, “[It] suggests that the benefits of experiential consumption apply not only to the consumers of those purchases themselves, but to others in their orbit as well.”

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