Could Waiting Actually Make You Happier?

I spend a lot of time waiting: in car pool lines, at sports practices, for people to return phone calls. I am also usually waiting for my next must-have pair of shoes to go on sale, and my family is usually waiting for and planning our next vacation. But could waiting actually make you happier?

While some of the waits in my life are relatively unproductive and not at all fun, waiting to make a fun purchase or have a new family adventure can be exciting. In general, experiences make people happier than material possessions, and a recent report concluded that waiting for experiences bring even more happiness. And, it turns out, the longer you wait for the experience, the happier it will make you.

The study found that spending money on experiences brought more happiness than spending money on material goods. They surmised that the value of a new outfit or the latest technological gadget or similar material good decreases over time. On the other hand, experiences, such as a vacation to a new destination, tickets to a hit show, or reservations at a favorite restaurant, help build long-term relationships. Additionally, making plans for experiences well in advance allows consumers to maximize their excitement and anticipation.

Authors of the study, which was published in the journal Psychological Science, tracked the emotional responses of more than 2,000 adults, including about 100 college students, to purchases of material goods and experiences. While the subjects got excited about both buying things and paying for events and experiences, they had more positive feelings about the experiential purchases. The material purchases were more likely to be associated with feelings of impatience.

Waiting for experiences, the researchers concluded, allows consumers to be creative: imagining what they will do on vacation, anticipating the excitement of a show, or thinking about what they will eat at a new restaurant. Also, experiential purchases are less associated with money compared to material purchases. Our society tends to be competitive with material purchases but is less worried about “keeping up with the Joneses” when it comes to experiences.

Experiences, as opposed to material goods, allow people to socialize and form important bonds. Also, a person is more likely to define himself by his experiences, not the things he possesses. Studies have revealed that experiences, not material possessions, are included in telling of significant life stories, provide a sense of self, and yield insights into another person’s true self. People value experiential memories more than possessions and, ultimately, life is defined by what you did, not what you had.

In a world of instant everything – communication, gratification, results – try adding a little anticipation to your life. Plan experiences early and use the wait as an opportunity to learn, grow, and create: you will be happier for it.


Carter TJ, & Gilovich T (2012). I am what I do, not what I have: the differential centrality of experiential and material purchases to the self. Journal of personality and social psychology, 102 (6), 1304-17 PMID: 22369046

Knutson B, & Greer SM (2008). Anticipatory affect: neural correlates and consequences for choice. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 363 (1511), 3771-86 PMID: 18829428

Kumar A, Killingsworth MA, & Gilovich T (2014). Waiting for Merlot: Anticipatory Consumption of Experiential and Material Purchases. Psychological science PMID: 25147143

Rosenzweig E, & Gilovich T (2012). Buyer’s remorse or missed opportunity? Differential regrets for material and experiential purchases. Journal of personality and social psychology, 102 (2), 215-23 PMID: 21843013

Thomas R, & Millar M (2013). The effects of material and experiential discretionary purchases on consumer happiness: moderators and mediators. The Journal of psychology, 147 (4), 345-56 PMID: 23885637

Image via Vitalii Nesterchuk / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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