Does Experiential Consumption Bring More Happiness Than Material Goods?

In the year 1974 Easterlin made the ambiguous observation that income and wellbeing are correlated at a given point in time but happiness does not increase with income over longer periods.

The Woman Post | Catalina Mejía

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This affirmation is challenging for the mainstream economic theory that promotes income growth as a way to increase happiness.

A study by Fanning and colleagues investigated the relationships between consumption and two dimensions of human wellbeing and happiness for 120 countries over 10 years. The study was performed to further investigate the happiness income paradox which claims that changes in national income and happiness are correlated in the short term but not in the long term. They found that countries that had a declining per capita consumption measured by Gross Domestic Product displayed reductions in happiness. On the other hand, countries that had a growing consumption per capita did not show significant changes in happiness. 

Also, a study by Myers and colleagues, revealed that wealth is not proportional to happiness. Even though we may believe that some material goods may improve quality of life, there comes a point when no improvement in happiness may be derived from acquiring additional possessions. Some studies claim that there comes a point when buying more possessions might decrease our levels of happiness.


Now, the question comes to be, if there is a point when more consumption does not increase our happiness, what does? A recent study by Russell and colleagues found that seeking meaningful experiences and socializing, instead of accumulating goods, brings a happier and healthier existence. The reason why increasing consumption does not bring more happiness at a given point is that once all needs have been covered, it's the higher-order needs such as meaningful goals, that need attention. According to Sujan and colleagues, an absence of meaningful goals can lead to unhappiness because material goods cannot fulfill higher-order needs as meaningfulness can.

Experiential consumption has been shown to generate more happiness than material consumption, therefore it can be established that materialistic people are unhappier than experientialist people. So the COVID-19 pandemic may seem like the right time to reflect on our consumption patterns, and how we may modify our behavior to feel happier. At the same time, reducing our consumption will ensure a better future for the planet and the coming generations.  What are you waiting for to plan for experiential consumption instead of spending more on materialistic goods?

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