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Why Spending Money on Experiences Can Make You a More Generous Person

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Why Spending Money on Experiences Can Make You a More Generous Person
Photo: Andrés Nieto Porras via Flickr

"Think about how you feel when you come home from buying something new. You might say, 'This new couch is cool,' but you're less likely to say, 'I’m so grateful for that set of shelves,'" Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell, explains. "But when you come home from a vacation, you are likely to say, 'I feel so blessed I got to go.'"

A recent study that he conducted shows a link between spending money on experiences and gratitude. It also links that gratitude to people acting more generously toward others, Real Simple reports.

The study looked at 1,200 online purchase reviews, both experiential ones like dining out or going on vacation, and objects like furniture and jewelry. The researchers also asked 297 individuals to each rate their level of gratitude for a recent purchase over $100. In both cases, those who spent money on experiences outpaced individuals who bought objects in their level of gratitude.

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The results thus far are arguably not terribly surprising (think about your last vacation). But researchers went on to test how this gratitude impacts behavior toward others. Participants were asked to reflect on a meaningful purchase for a few minutes. They were then given $10 and asked to divvy up the cash between themselves and an anonymous person. Those who reflected on experiences gave away an average of $1 to $2 more than others.

One researcher associated with the study believes this can potentially be extended to communities. "If public policy encouraged people to consume experiences rather than spending money on things, it would increase their gratitude and happiness and make them more generous as well," he says.

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