Ditch Gucci for a Passport | Experiences Dominate over Material Goods for Long-term Happiness
I expect there will be a number of people who open this thinking: “you just don’t have the same priorities I do.”
Well, I’m not here to just rant about my personal thoughts and opinions, I’m here to lay down some cold, hard facts to (hopefully) open up your mind AND increase your happiness. Sound fair? Ok, let’s have a go at it.
Let me introduce you to something known as buyer’s remorse. If you don’t know of the term, I’m certain you have experienced it. Buyer’s remorse is that feeling of regret after a purchase; whether it’s a new car, the latest iPhone, the wrong type of salad dressing, or even an article of fast fashion that was already kicked out of style before you left the store, you have surely experienced it at some point. In fact, Skelton and Allwood (2017) found that a vast majority of adults (82%) have experienced this at least once in their life.
The Decision-Making Process
Surely you have seen images of the figurative angel and devil, sitting on opposite shoulders, that pop up when life hands you a decision to make. Although this is meant to be humorous, it’s actually quite reflective of what’s truly going on in your brain. Instead of an angel and a devil though, I want to use something more relatable - let’s go with, your Dad and your best friend on opposite sides.
Here’s your Dad (i.e., the Avoidance System) who tells you to avoid risks and negative consequences. He will make you question whether this purchase is the RIGHT move for you, with buzzkill questions like:
Can you afford this purchase?
Is this the best option available out there for this item?
On the other hand, here is your best friend (i.e., the Approach (or, as I prefer, the F*ck it) System) that encourages you to do whatever makes you the happiest in that moment.
What happens is is that either of these systems can come into play with a decision to purchase a product, and which one will reign victor ultimately depends on which one most closely aligns with your goal at that specific moment.
I’m going to use a GUCCI carry-on bag as an example, as my streams have been flooded with these damn things lately, and is one of the many things that triggered curiosity in me towards this subject (especially since it retails for the same price as a 40-day, Treasures of Thailand tour… just sayin.)
A Man Walks into a GUCCI Store…
At that precise moment, your goal is:
(A) SAVE MONEY. You look at the price tag of this bag, laugh uncontrollably thinking about how many meals you could purchase with that amount, and RUN (don’t walk) away. In this scenario, because your goal was to save money, your Dad (Avoidance System) prevailed.
(B) BE TRENDY AF. You don’t even look at the damn price tag. You’ve seen your latest IG obsession with this on his/her body, and you need it to be on yours too. You pick it up, hand them your credit card, cover your ears when they say the amount, and skip out of the store in (momentary) happiness filled with endorphins. In this scenario, your best friend (Approach/F*ck it System) conquered, as it mostly closely matched with your goal at that moment in time.
(Situation A) You continue to be able to afford to eat, and no buyer’s remorse is evoked, because you listened to your Dad/Avoidance Approach and stayed true to your goals of saving money.
(Situation B) The endorphins wear off, and the credit card bill comes in the mail. You find out that the bag you bought is now off-season and you can’t bare to be seen with that monstrosity anymore. Now, your Dad comes back into your head and you are faced head-on with the consequences of your choices - whomp, whomp.
You will experience a period of time where you are rationalizing the purchase, telling yourself your “Dad” is wrong, by focusing HARD on the positives of your decision and downplaying the negatives
Sometimes this rationalization is enough to make the doubt go away, but you are more likely to experience a form of cognitive dissonance, where you are experiencing discomfort with conflicting beliefs and attitudes, known as buyer’s remorse. This discomfort will vary in magnitude depending on the levels of effort (e.g., cost of the item) or commitment you have invested in this purchase. Just like a bad relationship you can’t seem to get out of, the more involved you are with it, the more intense your potential regret will be.
Although larger purchases (such as a new car or house) can create a deeper feeling of remorse, it’s actually the smaller purchases (such as clothing items - hello, FAST FASHION) that 60% of respondents noted as causes of their experiences with buyers remorse (Skelton & Allwood, 2017).
K that sounds brutal, how do I avoid this?
Simply put, there are just far smarter things to invest our hard-earned money into. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this…
EXPERIENCES > MATERIAL GOODS
I’m not just saying this as a biased advocate of such things; there are studies such as Rosenzweig and Gilovich (2011) that found purchases of material objects FAR more likely to instigate buyer’s remorse than experiences.
With material goods, there are many - seemingly interchangeable - options available to us at any given time; thus, when you select one you are inadvertently discarding a variety of other items. The ‘missed opportunities’ of those discarded, which are compounded after selecting an item, creates buyer’s remorse.
Did I buy the RIGHT GUCCI bag? Maybe I would have liked the other one better… perhaps another colour would have suited me more? Perhaps I would have preferred a different brand altogether…
In contrast, we are far less likely to regret an experience, which are perceived as unique (not interchangeable, like material goods.) In fact, you are far more likely to regret missing out on an experience - hello, FOMO - than you are to experience remorse on spending money on one. Furthermore, the long-lasting memories crafted from these experiences will greatly outlive the initial positive endorphin rush experiences by material goods.
Okay, I’m done with the real talk - for now.