Why wanting things makes you HAPPIER than owning them

Have you been yearning to buy a new Mercedes for years?  Maybe you’ve thought about stopping by your local Macy’s store on the way home from work and snagging that posh Michael Kors watch you spotted there last month.  Or, you’ve contemplated replacing a dingy pair of sneakers ensconced in your closet with a new set of Sketchers you instantly became smitten with after seeing them in a newspaper ad.  According to psychologists, this zeal to acquire products is only ephemeral, as consumers derive more pleasure from desiring them than they do from actually owning them.

Human beings are known to long for the unobtainable – whether it’s an old flame who got away after high school or a snazzy smartphone that’s a bit out of our price range. Once the object is ours, that seemingly unshakable sense of yearning and excitement that we felt earlier dissipates, and it does not resurface until we set our sights on a new object of desire. If you think about it, this makes complete sense.

Products become outdated, worn out, or flat-out blasé – so it’s perfectly reasonable for us to want to trade up. But psychologists warn that thinking about acquisition provides mood boosts that are only temporary. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, we might still experience positive emotions following a purchase, but those emotions are far less intense than the ones we experience before the product is in our possession. Some consumers reported that they felt an acquisition has the potential to enhance the way they feel about themselves, improve their relationships with others, allow them to carry out day-to-day tasks more effectively, and enable them to derive more pleasure from life in general.

Moreover, the intensity of the happiness boost we experience prior to a purchase depends greatly on how likely we think those changes are to occur. Is it any surprise, then, that so many consumers are driven to overspend and go into debt?  They do so because they genuinely believe that products will bolster their happiness and change their lives for the better. It is a sobering reality that far too many people these days live beyond their means. And though we might feel tempted to cast blame on other things and people – from ubiquitous advertisements to a brand-conscious cousin who prods you into buying the latest and greatest products on the market – we should only be pointing the finger at ourselves.

Yes, advertisements assail us seemingly every place we go, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tune them out or look the other way. And we should never feel pressured into buying stuff we neither need nor particularly care for. In 2013, I upgraded to the latest Samsung Galaxy, one of the most popular smartphones on the market at the time. Even though the phone is easy-to-use, it carries far more bells and whistles than I’ll ever use. I would have been just as content with a simpler smartphone, but I bought into all the hype I was fed from TV commercials, friends, and – oh yeah – a relentless salesperson.

As a someone who majored in marketing and minored in psychology, I know all too well that companies, friends, and relatives alike exert tremendous influence on our purchase decisions. It’s up to us to take the information and tips given to us with a grain of salt and be cognizant that we – not they – hold the purse strings.

Learning that acquisition is less pleasurable than looking forward to a purchase may help us delay purchases until we are on firm financial footing to afford such products. So if you have to put off buying that nifty computer or state-of-the-art laundry machine you’ve been eying for months now, don’t fret. Owning the “best” stuff is really not all it’s cracked up to be. Besides, once the novelty of a new purchase wears off, you might question why you shelled out all that hard-earned money to buy it in the first place.

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