Does shopping bring happiness? Not always

Researchers at San Francisco State University have found that some shoppers are not any happier after shopping than they were before – which goes against the common belief that shopping makes you happier.

Despite previous studies indicating that shopping can make buyers happier, co-author of the study, Ryan Howell, said:

“Everyone has been told if you spend your money on life experiences, it will make you happier, but we found that isn’t always the case. Extremely material buyers, who represent about a third of the overall population, are sort of stuck. They’re not really happy with either purchase.”

Material consumers who buy life experiences may find that their purchase doesn’t necessarily make them happier, especially if it isn’t something they find interesting/fun – an experience that doesn’t match the personality of the buyer. For example, somebody who hates walking may buy a hiking tour and find the whole experience unbearable.

The study also indicates that material consumers that purchase material items may not be happier after their purchase as well, given the fact that they may be criticized or judged for what they have bought.

Howell commented: “I’m a baseball fan. If you tell me, ‘Go spend money on a life experience,’ and I buy tickets to a baseball game, that would be authentic to who I am, and it will probably make me happy. On the other hand, I’m not a big museum guy. If I bought tickets to an art museum, I would be spending money on a life experience that seems like it would be the right choice, but because it’s not true to my personality, I’m not going to be any happier as a result.”

There is a definite association between experiential purchases and happiness. However, according to Howell, very few studies have looked at the consumers who don’t experience any benefits.

The study involved surveying shoppers to determine what factors didn’t make them feel happy about their purchases.

Results of the survey revealed that consumers spending on material goods were not any happier after experiential purchases because it failed to give them a feeling of “identity expression” – the belief that the purchase is in line with the personality of the buyer.

Jia Wei Zhang, the lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of California, said:

“The results show it is not correct to say to everyone, ‘If you spend money on life experiences you’ll be happier,’ because you need to take into account the values of the buyer.”

Howell concluded:

“There are a lot of reasons someone might buy something, but if the reason is to maximize happiness, the best thing for that person to do is purchase a life experience that is in line with their personality.”