Last weekend I waited in line for an hour and a half to try the famous pancakes from The Pancake Pantry in Nashville, Tennessee. During my ample time to ponder, I wondered about whether or not such a long wait time would enhance or hinder my dining experience. Also while waiting in line, I noticed myself staring into the screen of my old iPhone, which is due for an upgrade.
Somewhat serendipitously, I came across an article this week on npr.com that addressed the concept of happiness, and whether or not it can be purchased. The article cited a growing body of research that suggests experiences tend to make people happier than the acquisition of material possessions, and referenced an article entitled Waiting for Merlot: Anticipatory Consumption of Experiential and Material Purchases that tracked 100 college students and more than 2,200 randomly selected adults in order to assess their feelings about material possessions compared to lived experiences. The findings suggest that, while people tend to feel excitement about both, they express more positive feelings about experiences. This is likely due to the creativity involved in planning and executing an experience, while making a new purchase tends to be more concrete. We know what to expect when we buy a new computer, because we have likely done the necessary research in order to make an informed purchase, but planning a vacation or an afternoon on the town tends to offer more fluidity and more anticipatory excitement.
As I waited in line, I engaged in a pleasant conversation with my girlfriend about what kind of pancakes to order, did some people watching, and my appetite and excitement seemed to grow as I inched ever closer to the dining area. In the end, I was more than satiated, and left the restaurant feeling better than I had when I arrived. More importantly, the memory of this experience gets better with each reflection, which cannot be said about recollections of past purchases. So when you ask yourself which experience might yield the most happiness, try to recall how you felt before and after waiting in line for that big Black Friday sale, versus how you felt before and after a great ride at Six Flags, or a delicious meal with friends.
Graham Martin, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern