What would make you happier: traveling with a friend or buying a newer car? If you’re between 19 and 35, you’ll almost certainly choose the first option, researchers say. For the Millennial generation, new experiences and good times with friends and family tend to outweigh spending on “stuff.”

friends“It’s not that they don’t value ‘things,’ they do,” says Angie Herbers, a business consultant who has worked with many Millennial clients. “However, they are the generation of ‘living in the moment.’ In their world, it’s cool to do cool things, rather than have cool things.”

Experiences tend to be more satisfying than possessions because they enable us to connect with other people, says Tom Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University. By contrast, spending on “things” you think will make you happy can actually become a form of competition. Is your new Mercedes S-Class really a brag to impress the boss? Is that 85” 4K SUHD Smart TV a way to one-up the pals you invited to watch the big game?

Also, experiences often deliver pleasure that can last a long time. Think of how your friends join you in anticipating a dream vacation. While you’re away, you enjoy meeting new people and seeing new sights. When you return, you get to share the experience all over again with your friends.

Of course, we all need to buy the necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing, and so on. But before buying “stuff” that isn’t strictly needed, maybe we should ask whether it will genuinely increase our happiness, pleasure, and closeness with others. Like many Millennials, we may decide that we’d be happier investing in experiences that enrich our lives.


Andrew Blackman, “Can Money Buy You Happiness?” The Wall Street Journal, 11/10/14
Anne Kates Smith, “It’s What You Do That Counts,” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, 12/2016
Olivia Mellan & Sherry Christie, “In Pursuit of Happiness,” Investment Advisor, 2/2016