People often said that money cannot buy love or happiness. What do they know? Recent research suggests that money may in fact be able to buy happiness – depending on what you buy. Love, on the other hand, appears to still not be for sale.

The trick with buying happiness is to invest in experiences rather than possessions. We have probably all had the experience of scrimping and saving (or arranging financing) to buy the latest widget or gadget only to find the novelty quickly fading into disappointment. Experiences, on the other hand, can bring satisfaction and happiness for years afterward.

As it turns out, science actually supports this idea that spending money on experiences instead of possessions brings greater happiness. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has studied happiness and found that adaptation is the enemy of happiness.

The trouble with possessions, he notes, is that we quickly adapt to them and then they no longer make us happy. Experiences, on the other hand, become part of us and therefore tend to make us happier, according to Gilovich.

Experiences also remain a part of us long after most possessions have been lost, worn out, or ceased to be useful. Experiences can be relived as we share the stories with others. Spending money on experiences also creates an opportunity to bond with others in a way that spending on possessions does not.

A certain amount of possessions are obviously necessary for safety, security, and reasonable comfort. Psychologist Abraham Maslow described a hierarchy of needs in 1943 that suggests self-actualization cannot be realized until after basic human needs are first met. In other words, it is hard to worry about what makes you happy and fulfilled if you lack food, clothing, shelter, or other basic necessities.

Once a person’s basic needs are met, however, accumulating more stuff tends to have little benefit for increasing happiness. Self-actualization (and happiness) are not realized from an ever-increasing collection of possessions stored in the closet or attic.

Obviously some possessions beyond basic needs can contribute to happiness. A musician without an instrument or a photographer without a camera would probably increase his or her happiness by spending money on an instrument or camera. Appalachian Trail through-hikers and long-distance, touring cyclists seem to all agree that while a certain amount of gear is necessary it is not the gear that matters but the experience.


Do you find that buying more things or investing in experiences makes you happier over time? Are your fondest memories of things you purchased years ago or of an unforgettable vacation, trip, or concert?

Additional Images: Flickr




Robert Witham
Robert Witham
A freelance writer and journalist, I am also a wandering minimalist. I never sit still for too long in one place. When I am not writing I can be found reading, enjoying a good cup of coffee, hiking, fishing, installing a new OS on my laptop, or building a website.