Positive experiences (e.g., going out to dinner) provides greater happiness than material purchases (e.g., clothing).  If we compare a negative experience with a negative material purchase, the results are more mixed on which will have the more deliterious effect on your happiness.

Researchers believe this is because memories

  • Improve with time as we forget the less pleasant parts of an experience and just recall the highlights.
  • Take on symbolic meanings, whereas those shoes are still just shoes.
  • Are very resistant to unfavourable comparisons: a wonderful moment in a restaurant is personally yours and difficult to compare, but all too soon your shoes are likely to look dated in comparison with the new fashions.

I would add that material things are needy.  A memory makes few demands, but an item requires maintenance and use.  Even an item you don’t use, takes up space in your home and can make you feel guilty for its lack of use.

Source: How to Choose Between Experiential and Material Purchases