Cornell psychology professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich is addressing a question as old as capitalism: Can money buy happiness? And if so, is more happiness derived from objects or experiences?
One might assume that a dream car or house will deliver more happiness in the long run, while the high from skydiving or a week abroad gradually loses its glimmer.
But a recent study suggests the opposite. Gilovich asked subjects to assess the level of happiness they associated with major material and experiential purchases.
At first they ranked about the same, but the results changed over time. As subjects lived with their material acquisitions, they adapted to themand the objects lost their luster. Experiences, on the other hand, became richer and more significant each time they were recalled or retold. Thats because, to quote Gilovich, We are the sum total of our experiences. We grow attached to them because they help to mold who we are.
This may explain another of Gilovichs findings: Since experiences are unique to each individual, were less inclined to compare them with othersor keep up with the Joneses, as the saying goes.
This isnt to say you should stop buying things that keep you comfortable and happy, or refrain from attaching emotional significance to a special object. Allocation is about balance, and a life can consist of vacations alone. But should you be lucky enough to have a big bonus check in hand, consider forgoing something youve always wanted to have for something youve always wanted to do. It could be an investment in the happiness of future you.