The Difference Between Wanting and Having

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wanting and having

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There’s no denying that we live in a consumer-driven materialistic society, but what is surprising are the findings of a new study, from the University of Missouri, which reveals that when it comes to happiness, wanting stuff makes us happier than having stuff.

The paper—titled “Why Wanting Is Better than Having: Materialism, Transformation Expectations, and Product-Evoked Emotions in the Purchase Process”—sums up the study by Marsha Richins, who measures consumers and their emotional states before and after making a purchase in three separate studies.

“Although “materialists’ perceptions that acquisition brings them happiness appear to have some basis in reality,” that happiness is short-lived, Richins concluded,” explains The Atlantic. “As such, “The state of anticipating and desiring a product may be inherently more pleasurable than product ownership itself.””

According to The Atlantic, the results were pretty clear cut:

In each study, the reigning materialists anticipated future purchases with strong, positive emotions, much more so than other consumers. Joy, excitement, optimism, and even peacefulness coursed through them regardless of whether they were thinking about buying a house or a toaster, next week or next year.

The materialists were also more likely “to believe that an upcoming purchase would transform their lives in important and meaningful ways.” They had faith in their upcoming acquisition’s power to improve their relationships, boost their self-esteem, enable them to experience more pleasure, and, of course, be more efficient. The intensity with which they felt the positive emotions was directly related to just how transformative they expected those transformations to be.

But after the purchase was made, and the materialists inevitably adapted to life in possession of said coveted item, what followed was a “hedonic decline,” in which their happy feelings dissipated.

What does this mean? Richin’s findings suggest that we get a temporary and momentary happiness after acquiring something new, but that level of happiness can be found by simply thinking about getting something new. As such, the process of saving up money and thinking of what you want to get provides more “happy moments” than the one moment where you acquire the desired position.

That said, there is a downside. The Atlantic shares: “Of course, along with the highs come lows — materialists were also more likely to experience fear and worry over all-important upcoming purchases. At the end of it all, not only are the boosts of happiness over, but materialists are more likely to have credit problems. But they do not, according to this study, experience more buyer’s guilt than anyone else.”

  • Susmita Baral

    Susmita is a writer and editor in the Greater New York City area. In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.

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