Americans are increasingly eschewing a material goods-based lifestyle for simpler living, trading conspicuous consumption in favor of life experiences.

Nearly three years ago, during the Great Recession, the New York Times published an article about middle class Americans stepping off the "work-and-spend" treadmill by giving away many of their possessions, taking jobs that paid relatively low salaries and moving into smaller homes. The article cited economic hard times as the primary driver of this shift in consumption patterns.

However, even those who are spending their money on nonessentials are choosing to purchase experiences over material goods. This trend has resulted in greater happiness for consumers for a number of reasons, including that they can stop trying to outdo their peers by owning the latest and best of everything.

Those who monitor consumer patterns from a psychological point of view say that spending your money on experiences, such as opera tickets, travel, foreign language courses, etc., generates more satisfaction over longer periods of time than spending it on material goods, such as new furniture or jewelry.

Although you can wear a pair of diamond earrings for life, you will turn over an experience, such as a trip to Eastern Europe, in your mind for years to come.

The preference for experience over goods exists among luxury shoppers as well. In a recent Boston Consulting Group report ("Luxe Redux: Raising the Bar for Selling of Luxuries") on global luxury markets, luxury as a lifestyle is becoming more important to conventional high-end consumers. The report indicated that in China, where the sales of luxury items are growing by 22 percent annually, luxury experiences are growing by 28 percent each year.

Another component of paying for experiences over goods involves anticipation, which those who study retail say is a key ingredient to happiness. The immediacy and convenience of online shopping has put a damper on anticipation among buyers. However, if you book a trip or a day of treatments at a spa, you can look forward to it for weeks or months.

Will the trend of choosing experiences over material items continue? Those paying attention, including psychologists and sociologists, say that owing to the newfound happiness many consumers are experiencing as a result, it just might.


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