More, more, more! Study proves material goods makes us happier


Over the past number of years, a series of consumer studies into the best gifts to give at Christmas has outlined that when it comes to winning, you’re better off forking out for an experiential present rather that nicely packaged goods and bounteous material goods. But now Canadian psychologists have flipped it, claiming their research reveals we actually like it other way.

It had long appeared experiential gifts provided people with more happiness and cheer than something material. Making your spouse breakfast in bed was better than buying someone a toaster, say. In 2003, a consumer study revealed that people felt a stronger sense of positivity after receiving an experience rather than something in a box, and moreover, felt a stronger connection to happiness when remembering a gift of experience than something material.

But good news for people who just want more this Christmas, the most recent study by University of British Columbia psychologists suggests that past surveys were way off, because they relied too heavily on retrospective bias. When psychologists tracked happiness in real time, the results of earlier studies were almost entirely negated.

The UBC research team examined both the experience of treating yourself to a gift and receiving one from your nearest and dearest. Some of the participants were given $20 and told you spend it on either something or some experience. Others were asked to use an experiential or material gift they had received for Christmas in the past. All of the study’s participants kept notes where they described their happiness.

When spread out over time, the results between material and experiential were roughly the same – experiences gave people more intense feelings of happiness during the experience, and could, sometimes, provide more happiness over time. But material goods had the most lasting power, leading to considerably happier owners, particularly in the two-week period immediately following the receiving of them.

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