Why a Vacation Will Make You Happier than a New Car

Studies say spending money on experiences will make you happier than spending it on possessions. Here's why.

Turns out, money can buy happiness: but only if you spend it wisely.

Buy that sleek new Audi you’ve been eying for months, and you’re likely to regret your purchase as soon as the new-car smell wears off. But if you spring for a family vacation to Italy, and spend a week staying a cozy Tuscan villa, dining on wine, cheese, and gelato every night, you’re far more likely to rank the purchase as a great one, even long after you’ve said arrivederci.

A new analysis of eight separate studies has found that experience-related purchases make people far happier than purely material ones—and it has some good insight into the reasons for the disparity.

When you buy “stuff,” you’re more likely to pay attention to minute details.
Many of us are accustomed to comparison shopping for everything from a stereo system to a new pair of boots. If, after making the purchase, you discover that someone else got a better deal, you’re likely to feel some buyer’s remorse. When it comes to trips, dinners out, and other experience-based purchases, you’re not as likely to think in the same terms, so if the experience is good, you’ll be satisfied with the price you paid.

Material purchases can be compared more easily. The differences between, say, a Kindle and a Sony Reader, are simple to measure—so if you purchase one and then read a magazine piece espousing the virtues of the other, you may regret spending the cash. On the other hand, if you eat a delicious dinner at Mario Batali’s Babbo, then read a rave review of Barbuto, you’re not likely to regret the first meal—you just know where to make your next reservation.

Material goods inspire more jealousy. Say you bought the Audi—only to drive it home to discover an even more luxurious new Porsche in your next door neighbor’s driveway. Instead, if you get home from Italy to discover that your neighbor’s just returned from a jaunt to St. Tropez, you may be a bit envious of his suntan, but it shouldn’t diminish the pleasure of your trip—and what you might lack in souvenirs, you can make up for in happy memories to last you a lifetime.