If you are hoping to impress others with extravagant purchases, you may want to think again. New research has found that people who spend money on activities and events such as vacations or concerts simply to impress others are not happier as a result. The research did find, however, that people making experiential purchases were happier when doing so for their own personal enjoyment.
In the research, Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, Jia Wei Zhang, a student in his lab, and Peter Caprariello, a researcher at the University of Rochester, found that the motivation for a purchase was able to predict future happiness largely because purchases are tied closely to a person's psychological state. This means that when people made decisions in line with desires and interests, they felt greater well-being, but when people made purchases simply to gain recognition from others, feelings of happiness were not as strong.
"Why you buy is just as important as what you buy," said Howell. "When people buy life experiences to impress others, it wipes out the well-being they receive from the purchase. That extrinsic motivation appears to undermine how the experiential purchase meets their key psychological needs."
Howell said purchases for personal enjoyment fulfill psychological needs, including the need to feel competent, autonomous and connected to others. Those needs, however, cannot be met if a purchase is made simply to impress other people. To avoid feeling regret when making larger purchases, Howell recommends consumers think twice before purchasing.
"The biggest question you have to ask yourself is why you are buying something," Howell said. "Motivation appears to amplify or eliminate the happiness effect of a purchase."
The research was based on a survey of 241 respondents. This research was a part of a paper entitled "Buying Life Experiences for the 'Right' Reasons: a Validation of the Motivations for Experiential Buying Scale." The paper was published online in the Journal of Happiness Studies.