Ever since the economy went sideways, starting somewhere around 2008, pop culture has been hyping the value of experiences over things — and not just for millennials. But have we been unfairly villainizing our stuff and its ability to also bring us joy, maybe in nearly equal measure?
According to a new study from two Hungarian researchers, the answer might be an emphatic yes. When Tamás Hajdu of the Institute of Economics and Gabor Hajdu of the Institute of Sociology at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) analyzed 10,000 responses of survey data from a major Hungarian household survey project (called the Tárki Household Monitor), they found some startling results indicating that both kinds of spending actually make us happy.
The HAS researchers found that "although both experiential and material expenditures were positively associated with life satisfaction, we found no significant evidence supporting the greater return from experiential purchases." Spending money was connected to being happier, but spending on one thing versus the other — experiences versus things — didn't seem to result in more meaningfulness or more joy.
So maybe you don't need to KonMari yourself to extreme minimalism to be happy. As Slate said in their coverage this week, go ahead and spend your money on whatever you want.
"Hajdu and Hajdu's work certainly isn't flashy," Slate's Nick Thieme opines:
The paper's abstract contains the line, 'We found no significant evidence supporting the greater return received when buying experiences.' That's pretty boring, and it doesn't really provide a great takeaway for readers at home, either. But research isn't meant to be exciting; it's meant to be true. I suspect Hajdu and Hajdu would be the first to admit their work is merely one study that joins other studies in the subject of happiness and consumption. It doesn't support the consensus, but that's fine. That's science.