Walker, J. T., Kumar, A. & Gilovich, T. (2016). Cultivating gratitude and giving through experiential consumption. Emotion, 16(8), 1126-1136. [click here to view paper]

Gratitude promotes well-being and prompts pro-social behavior. Here, we examine a novel way to cultivate this beneficial emotion. We demonstrated that two 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 six 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 altruistic behavior than thinking about possessions. In Studies 1-2b, we use within-subject and between-subject 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 two 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 than those who contemplated a significant material purchase. It thus appears that shifting spending towards experiential consumption can improve people's everyday lives as well as the lives of those around them.

Kumar, A. & Gilovich, T. (2016). To do or to have, now or later? The preferred consumption profiles of material and experiential purchases. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 26(2), 169-178. [click here to view paper]

Extending previous research on the hedonic benefits of spending money on doing rather than having, this paper investigates when people prefer to consume experiential and material purchases. We contend that the preferred timing of consumption tends to be more immediate for things (like clothing and gadgets) than for experiences (like vacations and meals out). First, we examine whether consumers exhibit a stronger preference to delay consumption of experiential purchases compared to material goods. When asked to make choices about their optimal consumption times, people exhibit a relative preference to have now and do later. In the next set of studies, we found that this difference in preferred consumption led participants to opt for a lesser material item now over a superior item later, but to wait for a superior experiential purchase rather than settle for a lesser experience now. This tendency is due to the fact that consumers derive more utility from waiting for experiences than from waiting for possessions. Finally, we provide evidence that these preferences affect people’s real-world decisions about when to consume.

Kumar, A. & Gilovich, T. (2015). Some "thing" to talk about? Differential story utility from experiential and material purchases. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(10), 1320-1331. [click here to view paper]

Psychological research has shown that experiential purchases (a hike in the woods; a trip to Rome) bring more happiness than material purchases (a designer shirt; a flat-screen television). The research presented in this paper investigates one cause and consequence of this difference: people talk more about their experiences than their possessions and derive more value from doing so. A series of eight studies demonstrate that taking away the ability to talk about experiences (but not material goods) would diminish the enjoyment they bring; that people believe they derive more happiness from talking about experiential purchases; that when given a choice about which of their purchases to talk about, people are more likely to talk about experiential rather than material consumption; and that people report being more inclined to talk about their experiences than their material purchases and derive more hedonic benefits as a result—both in prospect and in retrospect.

Gilovich, T. & Kumar, A. (2015). We’ll always have Paris: The hedonic payoff from experiential and material investments. In M. Zanna and J. Olson (Eds.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 51 (pp. 147-187). New York: Elsevier. [click here to view paper]

We live in a consumerist society in which large increases in wealth have not brought about corresponding increases in well-being. This has led some to wonder if there are ways people might spend their limited discretionary income to get a better hedonic return on their money. Here we examine the perils of materialism and review a program of research that demonstrates that experiential purchases (such as vacations, concerts, and meals out) tend to bring more lasting happiness than material purchases (such as high-end clothing, jewelry, and electronic gadgets). Compared to possessions, experiences are less prone to hedonic adaptation and we explore how and why the satisfaction they provide endures: by fostering successful social relationships, by becoming a more meaningful part of one’s identity, by being less susceptible to unfavorable and unpleasant comparisons, and by not lending themselves to deflating regrets of action. We also discuss how these hedonic benefits extend to anticipation as well, although people do not always anticipate that experiential consumption tends to provide more enduring satisfaction. We conclude by raising a number of questions about the distinction between experiences and material goods, about potential moderators and individual differences, and about how the overall well-being of society might be advanced by shifting from an overwhelmingly material economy to one that facilitates experiential consumption.

Gilovich, T., Kumar, A. & Jampol, L. (2015). A wonderful life: Experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(1), 152-165. [click here to view paper]

To live in the developed world is to live in a consumerist society. Although the broader forces that created this society have led to unprecedented material abundance, scholars have maintained that these benefits have come at a significant psychological cost.  An important question, then, is how these psychological costs can be minimized.  With that in mind, we briefly review research showing that people derive more satisfaction from experiential purchases than material purchases. We then summarize the findings of an extensive program of research on the psychological mechanisms that underlie this difference. This research indicates that experiential purchases provide greater satisfaction and happiness because: (1) Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods; (2) Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person's identity; and (3) Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases. It also appears that experiential purchases are less likely to be evaluated in monetary (market exchange) terms. We conclude by discussing how social policy might be altered to take advantage of the greater hedonic return offered by experiential investments, thus advancing societal well-being.

Gilovich, T., Kumar, A. & Jampol, L. (2015). The beach, the bikini, and the best buy: Replies to Dunn and Weidman, and to Schmitt, Brakus, and Zarantonello. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(1), 179-184. [click here to view paper]

We reply to commentaries on Gilovich, Kumar, and Jampol (this issue) by Dunn and Weidman (this issue) and Schmitt, Brakus, and Zarantonello (this issue). We argue that the distinction between material and experiential purchases is meaningful and important, that experiences can be bought, and that our comparisons of the two have not been confounded by factors such as significance, importance, purchase price, or subjective appeal. We further discuss the potential limitations of populations from which we have sampled, and differences in consumer satisfaction across different time frames. We conclude by embracing the fact that our program of research has generated many open questions and by welcoming further empirical attempts to understand the psychological processes and hedonic consequences that attend these two types of purchases.

Kumar, A., Killingsworth, M. A. & Gilovich, T. (2014). Waiting for merlot: Anticipatory consumption of experiential and material purchases. Psychological Science, 25(10), 1924-1931. [click here to view paper]

Experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having). Although most research to date has focused on the downstream hedonic consequences of these two types of purchases, the present research investigates hedonic differences that occur before consumption. We argue that the act of waiting tends to be more positive for experiences than for possessions. Four studies demonstrate that people derive more happiness from the anticipation of experiential purchases and that waiting for an experience tends to be more pleasurable and exciting than waiting to receive a material good. We find these effects using questionnaires involving a variety of actual purchases, a large-scale experience sampling study, and an archival analysis of news stories about people waiting in line to make a purchase. Consumers derive value from anticipation, and that value tends to be greater for experiential purchases.