Buying Happiness – Material versus Experience


For her son’s twelve-year-old birthday in June, my friend bought him a computer game set. She then proceeded to complain to me that he spent the following weekend playing the game instead of studying for his PSLE. I shook my head. Why then did she buy him the game? Because it’s his birthday and she did not want to disappoint him. And the outcome? Both were miserable because of of the purchase.

When she related to me the story, it reminded me of an article which appeared on The Straits’ Times on 30 May 2011, written by Tobias Chen Zhaonan and Ang Swee Hoon. In it, they reported that ‘Shopping does not buy you happiness, but a concert may’. Rather than spending money to buy material goods, it is better to spend money to buy experiences.

Consumers are often bombarded by advertisers ‘to establish in their minds a strong association between the accumulation of material possessions and happiness. People are conditioned to believe that their well-being and self-worth are defined by what they drive, what they wear and what they use.’ However, contrary to expectation, increases in material possessions may well be accompanied by a decrease in happiness. This ‘hedonic treadmill’ says that as possessions increase, so do expectations. Over time, people become less sensitised towards their possessions and require even more new possessions just to sustain the same level of happiness as before.

Instead of material possessions, acquisitions of experiences such as going to the spa, attending a concert , and going for holidays can generate greater happiness. People associate pursuing experiences more favourably as there is a stereotype that being obsessed with material purchases is superficial. Experiences also have a greater social value as they involve interaction with other people to varying degrees. Another reason why happiness can be bought more from experience than material purchase is comparability. It is more challanging to compare experience, than say…the latest gadgets.

The researcher at NUS observed that Singaporeans were happier with their expriences than material things. As Singapore develops into a cultural hub with museums and first class entertainments brought in, Singaporeans have the potential to become happier. Of course all these cost money. But which do you think you would cherish more? That iPhone 4 which will become obsolete by November or the magic of watching The Lion King Musical? Which would your kids remember more? The computer game he so badly wanted but now sits collecting dust with the other games he has, or the experience of running the Yellow Ribbon Run one Sunday morning in September 2010 in the heavy rain?

The next step is to be happy with experiences that do not come with a price tag. For that I’d like to share with you my experiences:

1. Witnessing a full lunar eclipse atop Pasir Panjang Hill with my hubby and kids on an early morning.

2. The sighting of a blue kingfisher, or a grey heron, or the monitor lizard as I run along the Ulu Pandan Canal Park Connector.

3. The blooming of my orchids. (Okay, for that you must spend some money to buy the orchids first.)

4. The nestings of the yellow-vented bulbuls in my pot of Japanese bamboo plant.

5. The smile on my nephew, Sebby’s face, as he greets me every evening.

6. The joy on my nephew, Patrick’s face, as he scanned through all the motor books I borrowed for him from the National Library. “Thank you Auntie Vicky.” He told me on a July afternoon at West Mall Library.

7. The happiness from my buyers as they took over Aaron’s collection of Bionicles, Horrible Science books. Their happiness on the bargain is my happiness as I clear my clutter.

8. Finally, having readers ‘like’ my blog!

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About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
This entry was posted in Me!. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Buying Happiness – Material versus Experience

  1. Gerald Achterhof says:

    it would be great to have a life full of happines…

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