So what should you do with it?
Gilbert's advice, stop buying so many material things and try to spend more money on experiences.
"We think that experiences can be fun but leave us with nothing to show for them," he said. "But that turns out to be a good thing." Happiness, for most people, is other people, and experiences are usually shared. First when they happen and then again and again when we tell our friends and family.
On the other hand, objects wear out their welcome. If you really love a pair of shoes, you might buy them. The first few times you wear them, you might admire them, and feel happy. But over time, they will probably reveal themselves to be just a pair of shoes.
But there might be another reason why buying objects rather than experiences tends to disappoint. For some people, there might be something dull, even disappointing about the act of buying itself.
"Materialists are more likely to overspend and have credit problems, possibly because they believe that acquisitions will increase their happiness and change their lives in meaningful ways," Marsha L. Richins of the University of Missouri concludes in her new paper, "When Wanting Is Better Than Having," published this month in the Journal of Consumer Research. But in three separate studies, materialists reported significantly more happiness thinking about their purchase beforehand than they did from actually owning the thing they wanted.
"Thinking about acquisition provided momentary happiness boosts to the people in the study who tended to think about acquisition a lot, such thoughts have the potential to provide frequent mood boosts," Richins wrote, "but the positive emotions associated with acquisition are short-lived. Although they still experience positive emotions after making a purchase, these emotions are less intense than before they actually acquire a product."
Once again, it would seem that experiences makes us happier than stuff even in the act of buying.
The finding that paying for something is less satisfying than wanting it shouldn't be confused with the idea that buying things makes us sad. It's hard to find a study showing that "retail therapy" (i.e.: shopping your way out of a bad mood) doesn't work most research suggests that a well-timed excursion to the mall can lift one's spirits. But if Gilbert and Richins are right, then the bulk of the therapy provided by shopping is everything that happens before the check-out counter. You don't have to go into debt to achieve nearly the same emotional gains from materialism.
When we're shopping, not for the things we need, but for the things we merely want, it's the experience of shopping and buying that makes us truly happy.
Money is very important when it comes to satisfying our needs but satisfying our wants requires an increase. It is a wonderful thing to be able to come home, flip a switch and have lights because you've paid your electric bill. But it is a beautiful thing when you can come home and turn on your 55 inch TV because you've paid your electric bill. Of course, light is a need, and a 55 inch TV is a want. But they both have 2 things in common. They both require money, and they both make us happy. Well, they both make me happy.