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Mental & Emotional Health

“Experiential Products” Boost Happiness

Material items designed to create or enhance an experience, also known as “experiential products,” can make shoppers just as happy as life experiences. That is the finding of research done at San Francisco State University and published online July 24th 2014 in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

A release from the university reports that the researchers discovered that such products satisfy a different, but equally powerful, psychological need than experiential purchases. While life experiences help consumers feel closer to others, experiential products such as books, sporting goods, video games or musical instruments allow them to utilize and develop new skills and knowledge, resulting in similar levels of happiness.

The study sheds additional light on how consumers can best spend their discretionary income to improve their well-being and fills a crucial gap in previous research, which had not examined the effects of experiential products on happiness.

The release quotes Ryan Howell, an associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study, as saying, “This is sort of good news for materialists. If your goal is to make yourself happier but you’re a person who likes stuff, then you should buy things that are going to engage your senses. You’re going to be just as happy as if you buy a life experience, because in some sense this product is going to give you a life experience.”

Years of research consistently have shown that purchasing life experiences, such as tickets to a play or a vacation, will make shoppers happier than material products such as clothes, jewelry or accessories. But by focusing on those two extremes, Howell said, psychologists have ignored the middle of the buying spectrum, leaving out a large number of items that are tangible but are nevertheless designed to engage users in some way.

He and lead author Darwin Guevarra, then a student at SF State, asked consumers about a recent purchase and how happy that purchase made them. Expecting that material items would provide the smallest happiness boost and life experiences the largest, with experiential products falling in the middle, they were surprised to find that experiential products actually provided the same level of happiness as experiences.

To learn why, they next looked at whether the purchases satisfied any of three key psychological needs: identity expression (the purchase reflects the consumer’s true values); competence (the purchase allows the consumer to utilize skills and knowledge); and relatedness (the purchase brings the consumer closer to others). The results showed that, while experiential products and life experiences offered similar levels of identity expression, the former were best at providing competence and the latter best at providing relatedness.

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