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What Makes Us Happy? Material Possessions Or Experiences?

Updated on June 10, 2013

Do Possessions Make us Happy?


Is it Possessions Or Experiences That Make us Happy?

This would seem like an easy question to most of us. The obvious answer would be experiences, wouldn't it? Falling in love, making friends, traveling and just being out there in the world experiencing the unlimited abundance there is on offer would appear to hold much more weight than mere objects that are nothing without our interaction with them.

However, when one takes a look at the current climate in the world's financial sector we see a very different picture. Credit card dominance to the point of implosion of economies and countries. Consumerism at an all-time high with massive spending still going on despite the financial troubles we are all facing.

It would appear that for many of us, possessions are what increase happiness. Let's take a look at a study done in 2009.

Do possessions really make us happy?

Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, presented his findings at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual meeting in 2009.

His study examined 154 students enrolled at San Francisco State University, with an average age of 25.

The participants were asked a series of questions about a recent purchase they had made, either material or experiential in the last 3 months, with the intention of increasing their happiness.

Students who wrote about experiences showed a higher level of satisfaction both at the time of experience and later. The difference that stood out the most was the level of happiness that "others" felt when the participants told them about their experiences. Friends, family and colleagues were happy to hear of those experiences and as a result, their happiness increased too.

The difference between the two purchases then, is clearly that people are able to relate more to experiences and share the happiness experienced from them by others than they could with for instance, a friend's new ferrari or house.

Researchers also found that people felt a greater energy and vitality both at the time of the experience and during their fond recollection of it.

What Makes us Happy?

Experiences Make us Happy

Experiences are with us for life and can be recalled within a moments notice, enabling us to immerse ourselves in an almost identical experience at the time of recall, whereas a new computer may excite us for the first 2 weeks and give us some enjoyment the pleasure will be forgotten and won't leave any lasting memory.

What we need

We have plenty of shopping malls, stores, supermarkets etc, we even have all that stuff online too. What we don't really have enough of is experiential opportunities that increase happiness and make us happy for the longer term, not just the few weeks that a new purchase gives us.

More parks, natural areas and open land with animals and activities for us to enjoy are a must if we are to increase the overall level of happiness in our worldwide community. Right now, we sacrifice park-land, nature and woods and forests so that we can build more shopping malls and continue this crazy reliance on material possessions for happiness.

Yes, we live in a world where most people rely on material possessions to make them happy, but that doesn't mean material possessions MAKE US HAPPY. It means we promote them, because money makes the world go round and we have been brainwashed into thinking that we actually NEED those things in order to be happy. Hogwash. We can learn to be happy by opening our eyes and being grateful for the opportunities all around us, both the social and the natural.

Possessions bring short term happiness. Experiences are the key to happiness, so I urge you to invest in them and build up your bank of memories rather than your bank of material things and money.

Experiences Make us Happy More Than Anything Else


What makes us happy?

The Psychology of Happiness Poll

What makes you happy?

See results

What Makes You Happy?

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    • Richawriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard J ONeill 

      7 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for commenting.

      That's a brilliant point, thank you for adding it here. I may even incorporate that into my article as I'll be editing soon.

      Have a great day!


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I agree in general- I would just add that a material possession that removes a source of stress- like a new computer that makes your work day much easier- will likely make you happier because it will eliminate the stress of a computer that keeps crashing. But a new computer every two months won't make you any happier.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      8 years ago from Pune, India

      Interesting topic.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 

      8 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      I would say, neither one. Both possessions and experiences may induce temporary, conditional happiness. But that is because of how we respond to the stimulus (new object, new experience).

      In truth, we make ourselves happy. And we don't need either possessions or experiences to do it. Just awareness of being alive, of breathing in and out, of having a world full of people and things to love can bring endless joy and peace.

      It's all in learning to focus our attention. And there's an ancient Japanese word for focus: Zen. (To learn more, read my hub about The Secrets of Happiness.)

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      This is a very interesting hub and I really enjoyed reading it. If I had valued material possessions more than experiences, I wouldn't have come over to Thailand to teach English after I retired from my stateside job. Voted up and sharing. Also Pinning.

    • Richawriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard J ONeill 

      9 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Thank you, bkmuze!

      Yes, it is all about experiences. Even as a young boy it was always experiences that went before possessions and those memories bring such happiness whenever I recall them. Times like, Collecting conkers (seeds of horsechestnut trees), analyzing and examining insects and spiders and walking for miles while exploring the countryside!

      Peace! :)

    • bkmuze profile image


      9 years ago from Northern California

      This is a wonderful post. We're all stuck in a word that is constantly badgering us with materialism and it is quite hard to focus on what really matters. Our experiences are our only real possessions.

      Thank you for sharing your insight and a wealth information!

    • yoginijoy profile image


      9 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      That's true, your name is a similar play. Yogini is a female yoga practitioner, and joy, well, you know that's the goal! Yoga is my path to joy.

    • Richawriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard J ONeill 

      9 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Ah, yes. I see now. I didn't even see that play on words there until just now.

      Yogi-A Yoga practitioner-ni-hmmm, not sure ha -joy-joy!!

      Much as my pen name. Rich - a - writer.

      Cool stuff. Peace :)

    • yoginijoy profile image


      9 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      Richawriter, you are most welcome! You are the first to mention my name. I'm glad you like it. It is hard to find a name that truly encapsulates a person's spirit, but I think I might be pretty close with this name. Peace :)

    • Richawriter profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard J ONeill 

      9 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Thanks for your great comment Yoginijoy!

      Yes, the answers we need to find true happiness are inside, not outside. The outside is our playground, the inside is home, the place where only we reside and only we understand.

      Take care, Yoginijoy. Interesting name, by the way!

    • yoginijoy profile image


      9 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      Great topic! I agree with you that nature, time with friends, and new experiences are important to happiness. Also, we need to stop looking outside of ourselves. It is not easy though, as you underline, society pushes us to consume violent images, consume material goods, and to think negatively about ourselves and others. We can be much happier by following your advice.


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