April 24, 2010
Peers Do Not Like Your Possessions

Hide your stuff if you want to be well liked. Or hang out with people even richer than you are. Of course, then you might not like your rich friends with all their expensive gadgets, luxury goods, and big houses.

People who pursue happiness through material possessions are liked less by their peers than people who pursue happiness through life experiences, according to a new study led by University of Colorado at Boulder psychology Professor Leaf Van Boven.

Van Boven has spent a decade studying the social costs and benefits of pursuing happiness through the acquisition of life experiences such as traveling and going to concerts versus the purchase of material possessions like fancy cars and jewelry.

"We have found that material possessions don't provide as much enduring happiness as the pursuit of life experiences," Van Boven said.

The "take home" message in his most recent study, which appears in this month's edition of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, is that not only will investing in material possessions make us less happy than investing in life experiences, but that it often makes us less popular among our peers as well.

This all reminds me of Geoffrey Miller's book Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior. People who buy high status goods overestimate the benefits these goods have on their status. Either people don't even notice the expensive watch or they resent you for owning it.

Take home lesson: Emphasize the trips you've been on in conversations. Or talk about near accidents or fist fights in bars or how you almost got mauled by a bear (one almost got me once btw). Stay away from talk about your second home or that 50 foot boat you've got parked down in Florida or the house boat on Lake Mead. Definitely absolutely do not mention your private island. We do not want to hear about it. Besides, I'll just tell you it is going to get wiped out by rising seas.

Okay, in the comments do you want to list some expensive possessions and make people hate you like you condescend and look down on their poor inferior asses? Or do you want to regale them with tales of how you almost died in the Kalahari desert or maybe in the Serengeti? Or maybe you escaped from kidnappers in Rio? If you bribed your way out of a prison in Mexico it implies you had the money need to do the bribery. So that's somewhat of a mixed bag.

War stories about Iraq or Afghanistan are better if a government sent you there at low pay as an enlisted man. If you went to the same area on your own dime it implies more wealth. Though if you are poor today that's probably okay to talk about.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 24 05:05 PM  Brain Economics

AnonyMouse said at April 24, 2010 9:49 PM:

A lion almost ate me, but I smacked it with my iPad and drive away in my BMW.

Dragon Horse said at April 25, 2010 7:33 AM:

lol, that is untrue for East Asia. Showing off your material processions, is he primary way to earn "face".

Dowlan Smith said at April 25, 2010 10:48 AM:

AnonyMouse wins!. Being liked is nice, but some will settle for fear and envy.

I once had a co-worker decrying McMansions. I guess real mansions were OK? I've known several people with real mansions and found them to be very likable. But being likable is probably an asset to successful businessmen.

PacRim Jim said at April 25, 2010 11:47 AM:

My possessions--such as they are--do not like my friends.

Mike said at April 26, 2010 12:40 PM:

The experiment was done on undergrads. ("In one experiment undergraduates who didn't know each other were randomly paired up and assigned to discuss either a material possession or a life experience they had purchased and were happy with.")

Are undergrads people? I sure wouldn't ask my undergraduate self for life advice - much though I love myself now and loved myself when an undergrad. Would you value the opinion of YOUR undergraduate selves? Would you ask undergraduates for advice on much of anything? Would you generalize their opinions across populations - thus declaring that when undergrads reach some conclusion, then that conclusion is what people think?

Re: the study's conclusion. Drive up to the coffee shop in your Lambo. See if people (especially women) don't notice. See if people don't want to be near you.

You might not call this "like." What do you want to call it? It certainly attracts people. Men want to talk about your car, and women want to ride in your car.

Talk about your yacht. See if chicks don't invite themselves over in bikinis.

Even stories are valuable only insofar as they signal status, wealth, or generosity of character.

The study's conclusion sounds bunk.

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