Why Waiting Actually Makes You Happy

2 minute read

Want to know the secret to happiness? Wait for it.

No, really. Wait for it. As long as the “it” is an experience, according to a series of new studies published in the journal Psychological Science.

We already know that experiences make you way happier than things do. Studies have shown that spending money on experiences as opposed to goods is more meaningful, makes you less likely to compare yourself to others, and encourages more social engagement. (Vacations trump solo shopping sprees, in other words.) You get those same pleasurable effects long before you even make the purchase and now, researchers have found, waiting to buy those experiences is a lot more fun, too.

One study asked college students to think about a purchase they were going to make in their near future, whether material or experiential, and report how they felt while waiting. People were more excited when waiting to buy an experience—and more impatient when waiting to buy something material.

The next study pinged more than 2,000 people enrolled in the scientific project trackyourhappiness.org throughout the day on their smartphones, asking how happy they were feeling at that moment. Of those daydreaming about a purchase they would soon make, experience-buyers won again in the happiness department.

In the final two studies, researchers scoured newspaper articles about people waiting in long lines and found that people queuing up for an experience, like buying concert tickets or delicious food, were better behaved than those waiting to buy stuff, like gadgets. And when people were asked to reminisce about times they’ve waited in line, they rated experiential waits as more pleasant.

It’s a little counterintuitive why experiences make us happier. After all, you’ll have a material purchase far longer than you’ll actually be on vacation. “The irony is that although this is true in a material sense, it is not true psychologically,” the study authors write–we’re far too good at adapting, which dulls our appreciation for the material objects that surround us every day. So reconsider that fancy TV and take a trip instead. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to savor the wait until takeoff.

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Write to Mandy Oaklander at mandy.oaklander@time.com