Cultivating gratitude and giving through experiential consumption

Emotion. 2016 Dec;16(8):1126-1136. doi: 10.1037/emo0000242. Epub 2016 Oct 31.


Gratitude promotes well-being and prompts prosocial behavior. Here, we examine a novel way to cultivate this beneficial emotion. We demonstrate that 2 different types of consumption-material consumption (buying for the sake of having) and experiential consumption (buying for the sake of doing)-differentially foster gratitude and giving. In 6 studies we show that reflecting on experiential purchases (e.g., travel, meals out, tickets to events) inspires more gratitude than reflecting on material purchases (e.g., clothing, jewelry, furniture), and that thinking about experiences leads to more subsequent altruistic behavior than thinking about possessions. In Studies 1-2b, we use within-subject and between-subjects designs to test our main hypothesis: that people are more grateful for what they've done than what they have. Study 3 finds evidence for this effect in the real-world setting of online customer reviews: Consumers are more likely to spontaneously mention feeling grateful for experiences they have bought than for material goods they have bought. In our final 2 studies, we show that experiential consumption also makes people more likely to be generous to others. Participants who contemplated a significant experiential purchase behaved more generously toward anonymous others in an economic game than those who contemplated a significant material purchase. It thus appears that shifting spending toward experiential consumption can improve people's everyday lives as well as the lives of those around them. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Altruism*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ownership*
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Social Behavior
  • Young Adult