In a 2009 study, Scientists considered the relationship between different types of consumption (buying stuff) and happiness among older Americans. Once of their result set dealt with vehicle consumption:
However, an important contribution of our findings is that we can reject the conventional wisdom that “material goods can’t buy you happiness.” In fact, two forms of expenditure are associated with increased happiness—leisure and vehicles—and vehicle spending had the largest association with happiness in our data.
Can buying a new or new to you Cadillac make you happy? Scientists cautiously say “yes”, but it depends somewhat on WHY you are buying the new Cadillac, and how you enjoy it.
Generally a new vehicle will make you happy in relation to its social connectedness. If you perceive the new vehicle as a leisure experience, and if it makes you feel more connected with others, then it will tend to make you happier.
If you buy it just to have the latest, newest thing, you will soon ‘adapt’ to it as a ‘new’ item, it will soon no longer thrill, and you will “need” to buy another, newer item in order to stay happy with newness.
A second main finding in the study is that money spent on leisure activities tends to generate more happiness than on material items. So taking a vacation makes most people happier than buying furniture. The key to this part of the study to me is that happiness comes from things that make memories for you.
If your Cadillac is a leisure item for you, a hobby purchase as well as mundane transportation, then it is more likely to be a source of happiness on an ongoing basis than if one is simply buying a generic car to get from point A to point B. In other words, if your Cadillac makes you smile every time you get in it, then as a material purchase it is a happiness investment.