Happiness, consumption and hedonic adaptation

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Nicolao, Leonardo, 1976-

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Previous theories have suggested that consumers will be happier if they spend their money on experiences such as travel as opposed to material possessions such as automobiles. I test this experience recommendation and show that it may be misleading in its general form. Valence of the outcome significantly moderates differences in respondents' reported retrospective happiness with material versus experiential purchases. For purchases that turned out positively, experiential purchases lead to more happiness than do material purchases, as the experience recommendation suggests. However, for purchases that turned out negatively, experiences have no benefit over (and, for some types of consumers, induce significantly less happiness than) material possessions. I provide evidence that this purchase type by valence interaction is driven by the fact that consumers adapt more slowly to experiential purchases than to material purchases, leading to both greater happiness and greater unhappiness for experiential purchases. Moreover, I show that this difference in hedonic adaptation rates for material and experiential purchases is being, at least partially, driven by a difference in memory for those types of purchases. I also show that individuals mispredict hedonic adaptation rates for material and experiential purchases. Finally, I discuss implications for consumer choice.