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Swimming pools make you happy
I don’t think I am surprising anyone of my readers when I say that material happiness is less important than experiential happiness. There are so many articles that discuss the results of dozens, if not hundreds, of studies that have shown that. When we are asked to evaluate how happy a purchase or gift would make us and then we compare it with how much pleasure we get out of it after we have made the purchase or received the gift, then ‘stuff’ systematically loses out to ‘experiences’.
For example, if you ask women how much pleasure they get out of jewellery compared to a romantic dinner for two, most women will estimate they will get the same amount of pleasure or more from the jewellery. If you then actually ask them after the fact, the romantic dinner ranks higher (and typically is cheaper) than the jewellery. This is empirically true, despite what my wife tells me about her personal preferences for jewellery vs. dinners.
By now, this has become widespread knowledge, much to the annoyance of jewellers everywhere, and more and more people are switching to experiential gifts rather than buying more ‘stuff’.
But there may be a better way to make your loved ones and yourself happy than choosing between ‘stuff’ and ‘experiences’. Some things allow you to combine both. This study has asked 3,288 volunteers to rate different products both in terms of how much pleasure they think they will get out of these products as well as how much pleasure they felt thinking about the last time they bought these products. The volunteers were asked about a large set of products and were asked to rank them in a framework that assessed these products from a purely materialistic point or from a purely experiential point.
The chart below shows the top 10% of all products by happiness scores and where they rank on each dimension.
Highest happiness items
Source: Weingarten et al. (2023)
Note the blue dots that mark the ‘stuff’ that makes people happy. These include gold, chocolates, and smartphones. But these products only score highly on a materialistic scale, not on an experiential scale. Then there are the red dots of experiences that make people happy but don’t score high on a materialistic scale, like vacations and the dinner for two.
And then there are the green dots of products that make people happy both on a materialistic and an experiential scale. These are things like a swimming pool or a vacation home. On a materialistic scale, they give you pleasure because these are luxuries that aren’t cheap but convey status and can simply be beautiful objects in their own right. But on top of that, you get to use them and using them gives you lots of positive experiences and a constant stream of happiness.
So, if you want to make yourself (or your wife) happy, go buy a swimming pool or a vacation home. And if you don’t have the budget for that, think about adopting a pet or buying good books, because according to this study, books and pets are happiness machines as well. And I 100% agree with that.