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Money can’t buy love itself, but it can certainly buy things that people love. But after the season of giving, which purchase is best for lasting happiness? One of the UK’s largest package holiday providers took a look into best investments at a time when the gloom and misery of the Great British weather takes hold of the nation.

Hot off the heels of Christmas, Jet2holidays wanted to visually compare two of the most popular buying trends of the winter season: material goods and travel experiences. With material goods purchases hitting a high in December, and Jet2holidays’ own holiday sales spiking in January – as people seek to beat the January blues with getaway plans – the company sought to understand where true happiness lies.

We counted the number of images of each country on Instagram, Flickr, Photobucket and DeviantArt and ranked them on each platform, before bringing the rankings together to hail one overall winner.

Perhaps unsurprisingly – in a world where material goods are subject to changes in technology, fashion and practical application – it appears that possessions are not making people as happy as they could be.

One study in particular – as groundbreaking as it was deep – helped put the issue beyond doubt. Following 20 years of research, Cornell University psychology professor Dr Thomas Gilovich concluded that buying “things” offers a quickly-fading happiness, and for three key reasons:

1) New possessions are easy to get used to – and the excitement soon wears off.

2) Possessions are easier to compare to those of friends or contemporaries. We buy a new car and are thrilled with it until a friend buys a better one—and there is always someone with a better one.

3) The bar is constantly being raised. For example, with mobile phones, we get used to a model, then another overtakes it – and we will want that instead.

In the study, the researchers found seven core reasons as to why people prefer experiences:

  • Anticipation: Many experiences can be bought on the day, but most are planned – and waiting to go on holiday, do a skydive or enjoy new cuisine is something that keeps people happier for longer.
  • Social elements: The opportunity to share experiences – or inform others of the ones you have had – is much more rewarding than simply showing off a new shirt or games console.
  • Self development: People are much less willing to give up an experience they had over a material possession – they see even negative experiences as character-building, and part of who they are.
  • Flow as a mental state: And it is essential for happiness. Experiences create flow better than purchased items, and it is easier to focus and engage with a holiday than, say, a new sofa or TV.
  • Experiences are harder to compare: The fear of missing out – FOMO – is a lot harder to tangibly measure with similar experiences, while you could put two items of technology side by side.
  • Possibility of boredom: According to Dr Gilovich himself, “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation.” This is best demonstrated by having “no games to play” even though four have never been opened, or your phone is not exciting after a year of owning it.
  • A rose-tinted recollection: Finally, looking back on experiences – even less enjoyable ones – is a lot more positive than remembering things once owned. For example, a theme park visit will be better remembered for the rides, not the queues.

The findings are reinforced by a Harvard study, where psychologists Matthew Killingsworth, Daniel Gilbert and Amit Kumar asserted that waiting for an experience “apparently elicits more happiness and excitement than waiting for a material good”, as well as a higher sense of “pleasantness”. They discovered that experiential purchases are intrinsically linked to positive identity and social behaviour, too

So, in the future, may it be better for people to consider a holiday or experience than a new item of technology, or something different for the wardrobe?

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