Experiences Increase Happiness and Well-Being, Research Shows

by Kelley Dennings   |   November 12, 2017

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In the 1940s and 50s, psychologist Abraham Maslow created a theory called the pyramid of human needs. According to this theory, once we have met our most elementary physiological needs – food, water, sleep, and security – we then look to fulfill our social needs: love and belonging. Until these six needs are covered, we cannot move on to fulfilling our further needs for self-esteem and self-actualization.

This theory is the building block for research linking what we consume with our personal well-being.

  • Why do people over-consume (i.e., acquire more and more “stuff”) after their physiological needs are met?
  • What happens when we do not meet our social needs (for love and belonging)?
  • How do these needs affect our daily lives and our ability to achieve self-actualization?

To answer these questions, research into consumption and happiness brings together the disciplines of public health, the environment, and social change. It shows that while more “stuff” doesn’t buy happiness, experiences may be able to.

So this holiday season, New Dream is asking people to commit to giving at least one experiential gift to family and friends, instead of more stuff.

What does bring us happiness? 

...all of which can be EXPERIENCES!!

Experiences are special because they can be unique, the associated anticipation increases enjoyment, they provide long-lasting memories, they are fleeting so we value them more, and their value increases with time.

So don’t be a Scrooge this holiday season – help increase the happiness and well-being of your best friend, girlfriend, mom, or crazy uncle by giving them a gift of experience!

Click on the links throughout this page to see scientific journal articles with more details on the connection between consumption/materialism and happiness/well-being. For additional research on this topic or to continue the conversation, reach out to New Dream’s Behavior and Social Change Fellow, Kelley Dennings, at kelley@newdream.org.