Have you been yearning to buy a new Lexus for years? Maybe you’ve thought about stopping by your local Macy’s store on the way home from work and snagging that stylish Michael Kors watch you spotted there last month. Or, you’ve contemplated replacing a dingy pair of sneakers ensconced in your closet with a new set of Sketchers you instantly became smitten with after seeing them in a newspaper ad. According to psychologists, this zeal to acquire products is only ephemeral, as consumers derive more pleasure from desiring them than they do from actually owning them.
In my recent article, “Reasons Why We Want What We Can’t Have,” I shed light on the fact that human beings are known to long for the unobtainable – whether it’s an old flame who got away after high school or a snazzy smartphone that’s a bit out of our price range. Once the object is ours, that seemingly unshakeable sense of yearning and excitement that we felt earlier dissipates, and it does not resurface until we set our sights on a new object of desire. If you think about it, this makes complete sense. The car I’m currently driving – a 2000 Toyota Corolla – has seen better days. Though it has turned out to be quite dependable, the car shows obvious signs of wear and tear – scratches on the exterior, broken door handles, stained upholstery – and is no longer the treat for the eyes it once was. That’s why I decided it was time to get through my withdrawal symptoms and part with my trusty companion; I plan to buy a new vehicle (still debating which one) in the coming months.
Products become outdated, worn out, or flat-out blasé – so it’s perfectly reasonable for us to want to trade up. But psychologists warn that thinking about acquisition provides mood boosts that are only temporary. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research earlier this year, we might still experience positive emotions following a purchase, but those emotions are far less intense than the ones we experience before the product is in our possession. Some consumers reported that they felt an acquisition has the potential to enhance the way they feel about themselves, improve their relationships with others, allow them to carry out day-to-day tasks more effectively, and enable them to derive more pleasure from life in general. Moreover, the intensity of the happiness boost we experience prior to a purchase depends greatly on how likely we think those changes are to occur.
Is it any surprise, then, that so many consumers are driven to overspend and go into debt? They do so because they genuinely believe that products will bolster their happiness and change their lives for the better. It is a sobering reality that far too many people these days live beyond their means. And though we might feel tempted to cast blame on other things and people – from ubiquitous advertisements to a brand-conscious cousin who prods you into buying the latest and greatest products on the market – we should only be pointing the finger at ourselves.
Published in: Consumer Information