"We consume experiences directly with other people," says Gilovich. "And after they're gone, they're part of the stories that we tell to one another."
And even if someone wasn't with you when you had a particular experience, you're much more likely to bond over both having hiked the Appalachian Trail or seeing the same show than you are over both owning Fitbits.
You're also much less prone to negatively compare your own experiences to someone else's than you would with material purchases. One study conducted by researchers Ryan Howell and Graham Hill found that it's easier to feature-compare material goods (how many carats is your ring? how fast is your laptop's CPU?) than experiences. And since it's easier to compare, people do so.
"The tendency of keeping up with the Joneses tends to be more pronounced for material goods than for experiential purchases," says Gilovich. "It certainly bothers us if we're on a vacation and see people staying in a better hotel or flying first class. But it doesn't produce as much envy as when we're outgunned on material goods."
Gilovich's research has implications for individuals who want to maximize their happiness return on their financial investments, for employers who want to have a happier workforce, and policy-makers who want to have a happy citizenry.
"By shifting the investments that societies make and the policies they pursue, they can steer large populations to the kinds of experiential pursuits that promote greater happiness," write Gilovich and his coauthor, Amit Kumar, in their recent article in the academic journal Experimental Social Psychology.
If society takes their research to heart, it should mean not only a shift in how individuals spend their discretionary income, but also place an emphasis on employers giving paid vacation and governments taking care of recreational spaces.
"As a society, shouldn't we be making experiences easier for people to have?" asks Gilovich.