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Why Do We Enjoy Experiences More Than Material Things?

Material purchase decisions are more likely to generate regrets of action whereas experiential purchase decisions are more likely to lead to regrets of inaction. In other words, it’s about regret, not satisfaction.

But why the difference — Why does regret stem from inaction when it comes to experiential but action for material purchases?

There is a smaller set of items that feel like effective substitutes for experiential goods. Singular experiences are less likely to prompt counterfactual thoughts that focus on upward comparisons because the class of items with which an experience can be compared is small. Instead, the easiest and most likely comparison is between having missed out on the experience and not having missed out, yielding regrets of inaction. Conversely, the greater interchangeability of material goods affords myriad opportunities for upward comparisons after a purchase, making material purchases more likely to spark rumination about alternative purchases and hence regrets of action.

Another blog summed it up:

The influence of interchangeableness makes a lot of sense. When you buy a car, you wonder about what you didn’t get, whereas if you choose not to buy a car, you can always get one next week. On the other hand, if you go to the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, it’s hard to think about what you’re missing out on. If you decide not to go, you probably won’t get another chance to have that experience.


Previous research has established that experiential purchases tend to yield greater enduring satisfaction than material purchases. The present work suggests that this difference in satisfaction is paralleled by a tendency for material and experiential purchases to differ in the types of regrets they elicit. In 5 studies, we find that people’s material purchase decisions are more likely to generate regrets of action (buyer’s remorse) and their experiential purchase decisions are more likely to lead to regrets of inaction (missed opportunities). These results were not attributable to differences in the desirability of or satisfaction provided by the two purchase types. Demonstrating the robustness of this effect, we found that focusing participants on the material versus experiential properties of the very same purchase was enough to shift its dominant type of regret. This pattern of regret is driven by the tendency for experiences to be seen as more singular—less interchangeable—than material purchases; interchangeable goods tend to yield regrets of action, whereas singular goods tend to yield regrets of inaction.

Still curious? Check out the satisfaction side of the argument: six reasons that material purchases are less satisfying than experiential purchases.

Source: Buyer’s remorse or missed opportunity? Differential regrets for material and experiential purchases.