Turns out the Great Recession, as some are now calling it, actually may make aquatics, and waterparks in particular, happy.

Let me explain. With less money to spend on everything, people are being forced to prioritize where they spend their money. And, as a recent popular New York Times article pointed out, many people are choosing to buy experiences rather than things.

“We’re moving from a conspicuous consumption — which is ‘buy without regard’  — to a calculated consumption,” says Marshal Cohen, an analyst at NPD Group, the retailing research and consulting firm.

“‘It’s better to go on a vacation than buy a new couch’ is basically the idea,” the Times quotes one professor, summing up the research that supports this new behavior. 

Later, the article states, “One reason that paying for experiences gives us longer-lasting happiness is that we can reminisce about them.” You can see how this new thinking might put smiles on the faces of waterpark operators.

Indeed, if experiences, not things, are what make people happy, then waterparks — with their emphasis on themes, fun and excitement — are primed and ready to offer consumers as much happiness as they  can handle. Creating memories, too, is exactly what companies, such as Great Wolf Resorts, are all about. In other words, if you run a waterpark, you are uniquely positioned to sell happiness.

Many waterparks already are capitalizing on this phenomenon, as our special coverage for this annual waterpark issue demonstrates. We profiled four different types of waterparks and the methods they are using to become “Survivor Waterparks.”

Despite the new push toward experiential consumption, surviving in this market still takes a lot of strategy and business sense. For instance, many parks are discovering that discounting is a much better idea than cutting prices altogether. The article offers many more survival strategies such as that one, and I hope you’ll apply them in your own park. But it’s nice to know that as the economy continues sputtering along, there’s a silver lining.

“There’s been an emotional rebirth … that’s really come out of this recession,” says Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of WSL Strategic Retail, a marketing consulting firm that works with manufacturers and retailers. “We hear people talking about the desire not to lose that — that connection, the moment, the family, the experience.”

Waterpark operators, it’s time to do your happy dance!.