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(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Science: Owning Yachts Much Better Than Merely Chartering Them

• April 30, 2014 • 5:00 AM

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

When it comes to luxury products, owning them makes you much more satisfied with your life than using them.

Swilling champagne and shoveling Almas Beluga caviar into your mouth with diamond-ring-encrusted fingers makes you happier than swilling knock-off sparkling wine and shoveling Lumpfish caviar into your mouth with ringless fingers.

Or, so it is decreed by science. Research has shown “that luxury consumption positively affects an individuals subjective well-being.” According to a study in the April issue of Applied Research in Quality of Life:

The study of Hudders and Pandelaere, for instance, shows that the frequent spending of money on luxury brands in various product categories, such as accessories, clothing, or travel is positively related to Satisfaction With Life (SWL). This implies that spending money on Gucci bags, Abercrombie & Kent travel or Godiva chocolates has a more positive impact on an individuals well-being than spending money on less luxurious counterparts, such as H&M handbags, Guylian chocolates or cheaptickets.com travel.

Of course, these types of studies, which “equate consumption with ownership,” raise a key question: “Because ownership implies that one retains possessions after product use, it remains unclear whether it is the mere use (i.e. using the product without owning it) or the ownership of luxury products that positively affects an individual’s well-being.”

In other words, do you benefit from riding on your friend’s yacht in the same way that you benefit when you purchase and name your own yacht after your late great grandfather Cornelius IV, a name which you pay Damien Hirst to paint sumptuously in gold on the hull?

In order to figure out the answer the researchers conducted a faux product evaluation test with 307 subjects. The real purpose of the experiment was testing how “mere use” of “luxury” pens and chocolate versus ownership affected people’s perceptions of their own satisfaction with life. In the use-conditions, subjects were allowed to sample the chocolate and use the pen, but in the ownership conditions, they were allowed to take the products home to own. The results:

[T]he mere use of luxuries seems to decrease an individuals SWL. This is observed for both a durable (a pen) and a non-durable (a chocolate). These results may provide some preliminary evidence that mere use of luxury products seems to be detrimental for ones SWL.

Why, besides the fact that you’re being overtaken by the emptiness of your own soul-crushing materialism, is this the case? The authors speculate that when a person uses a luxury product, without owning it, they might imagine a depressing ideal version of themselves, the one who could have captured that investment banking job and surfed down mountains of gold to a life of luxury pens (and binge cocaine use). “This typically evokes psychological discomfort and accordingly, may negatively affect an individuals SWL,” the authors conclude.

The research indicates that you’re not doing anyone any favors by letting them borrow your snazzy private jet. Science has yet to test the effects of yacht dockage fees on SWL.

Ryan Jacobs
Associate Digital Editor Ryan Jacobs joined Pacific Standard from The Atlantic, where he wrote for and produced the magazine’s Global and China channels online. Before that, he was a senior editorial fellow at Mother Jones. Follow him on Twitter @Ryanj899.

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