It turned out that the highly materialistic students were more happy and excited than their peers shortly before buying their desired item. That changed quickly in the weeks afterward, however, Richins found.
In a separate survey -- this one of 180 U.S. consumers -- Richins found some hints as to why materialistic people get so excited pre-purchase: They tend to believe that the car, flat screen or laptop will somehow transform their lives for the better.
People with low levels of materialism were less prone to believing purchases could have wide-reaching effects on their lives -- even if they really wanted that car or TV.
But before those folks get too smug, other research suggests that, on average, everyone expects a bit too much from the things they buy, said Tom Meyvis, an associate professor of marketing at the NYU Stern School of Business, in New York City.
And it's not only the cars and electronics, according to Meyvis. People also expect too much of the puppy they adopt, or the vacation they take -- even though, Meyvis noted, it often turns out that "vacations aren't that great."
"People tend to overestimate how much events and experiences will affect their happiness in the long run," Meyvis said. "In the long term, it doesn't matter. You go back to your baseline level of happiness."
The problem is, people typically don't learn that. If you believe that things or experiences will make you happier in your life, that belief tends to be "sticky," Meyvis noted. And you may selectively remember that one time that a new car did make you feel better for a while.
So what to do? Both Meyvis and McFerran suggested putting more thought into your purchases -- at least the big ones. Notice if you want an item because you think it's going to make you happier, and then try to remember the last time you believed that, and how it turned out.
"If you're aware of this, maybe you'll consider things more deeply," M
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