To do, to have, or to share? Valuing experiences over material possessions depends on the involvement of others

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013 Feb;104(2):199-215. doi: 10.1037/a0030953. Epub 2012 Dec 31.


Recent evidence indicates that spending discretionary money with the intention of acquiring life experiences-events that one lives through-makes people happier than spending money with the intention of acquiring material possessions-tangible objects that one obtains and possesses. We propose and show that experiences are more likely to be shared with others, whereas material possessions are more prone to solitary use and that this distinction may account for their differential effects on happiness. In 4 studies, we present evidence demonstrating that the inclusion of others is a key dimension of how people derive happiness from discretionary spending. These studies showed that when the social-solitary and experiential-material dimensions were considered simultaneously, social discretionary spending was favored over solitary discretionary spending, whereas experiences showed no happiness-producing advantage relative to possessions. Furthermore, whereas spending money on socially shared experiences was valued more than spending money on either experiences enacted alone or material possessions, solitary experiences were no more valued than material possessions. Together, these results extend and clarify the basic findings of prior research and add to growing evidence that the social context of experiences is critical for their effects on happiness.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ownership / economics*
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Values*
  • United States
  • Young Adult