You know the old adage, the one that says money can’t buy you happiness? Well, science begs to differ — sort of.
According to the Scientific American Mind, purchasing experiences — not goods — can give us greater well-being. That is to say, buying a $60 ticket to an activity leads to more happiness than getting a receipt for a purchase. Here’s why: Experiences generally involve social relationships. Items rarely do. Yes, we may re-use the item, but it has diminishing value as it ages or as the novelty wears off. Whereas social relationships characterized by experiences can self-generate, more relationships beget more relationships. Most of us can speak of a social relationship that is now a permanent quality relationship that was achieved as a result of a common experience.
I am a car guy. As far back as I can remember I have had a fascination with anything that has wheels. I still have my steel wagon from preschool, I had a go-kart at the age of 9, and my first car at 13. The research gets a little shabby around me though as I derived, and still derive, a lot of satisfaction from automobiles. However, I have far more memories of experiences (mostly because of an automobile, not ownership) than I do of purchasing said vehicles.
A second factor explaining why experience generates more well-being than an item is dopamine. Who would have guessed? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls our reward and pleasure centers. It is generated as a result of delayed gratification. By going for the quick shiny ticket item your brain produces less chemical happiness. Delaying your gratification to go to a concert a month later increases your happiness. So instead of a ten minute rush you get, twenty minutes of brain opportunity to think, plan and visualize your positive expense.
That is a lot of dopamine!
— Dennis Coates